Sometimes Larry Olds taught at his dining room table. For decades he taught at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Before that, he was an educator in Uganda and at the University of Minnesota.
Wherever he taught, Olds offered students an unusual way to learn and connected people from around the world. He was a proponent of the "popular education" movement that called on people to examine personal stories and experiences and use them to better understand and respond to community issues.
Olds died Oct. 13 at his home in Minneapolis' Powderhorn Park neighborhood, where for 40 years he gathered with friends and strangers. He hosted musicians and organized structured conversations in which a group would listen to what each person had to say about a book, idea or current event.
"He really used hospitality as a way to bring people together," said Tom O'Connell, a longtime friend and colleague.
O'Connell and Olds lived in a commune together in the 1970s, after Olds had returned from teaching in Uganda. The time in Africa expanded the worldview of the reserved man who grew up in rural northern Minnesota, O'Connell said, and their living situation instilled a "communal spirit" in Olds.
After a brief stint working with youth at an alternate community school, Olds got a job at MCTC and focused on adult education.
He and his former partner, Dorothy Sauber, a community activist and textile artist who passed away in 2008, had two sons: Kelsey Sauber Olds, of Viroqua, Wis., and Andy Olds, of Portland, Ore. He is survived by them and four grandsons.
Olds enjoyed watching his sons and grandchildren play sports and helped foster athletic teams, including a Ugandan basketball team and a Powderhorn Park soccer team, Kelsey Sauber Olds said. Both he and his brother played soccer in college and Olds would drive to Ohio one weekend to watch one son play and Colorado the next to watch the other, Sauber Olds said.
"As a father he was super-supportive and proud," he said.
Whether it was through athletics or activism, "he was a connector," Olli Johnson said. She met Olds a decade ago, when she was working on a theater project influenced by Paulo Freire, whose ideas shaped the popular education movement. Johnson was in her early 20s and figuring out what she wanted to become. She connected with Olds, who retired from teaching at MCTC in 2000 and was sorting through the next chapter of his life.
Johnson moved into his duplex's attic and he paid her to clean. Olds was generous, friends said. He often offered young people odd jobs and hosted visitors at the properties he owned in Powderhorn Park.
"He became a mentor to a lot of young people," family friend Nikki LaSorella said. "In his very serious way, he offered people a chance to grow and offered them stability."
He was a tall man and dealt with joint pain and in his final years battled prostate cancer. Hosting people was a way to remain connected when getting around became difficult, Johnson said.
As Olds aged, his interest in popular education continued.
"His role was really as a propagator" of the educational model, O'Connell said. "His legacy is going to live on."
In 2012, the website Popular Education News featured an interview with Olds. He described how, for 25 years, he had been assembling material on popular education and sharing information.
"One of my hopes for my life is to be a cog on the big wheel of social change," Olds said. "I am pleased that others are continuing. There is much still to be done."