The University of Minnesota Alumni Association had wanted to build a permanent home on campus for more than 30 years when alumnus and Twin Cities real estate developer Larry Laukka got involved.
It took more than 10 years and the dogged efforts of Laukka, Fred Friswold and Dale Olseth to get the McNamara Alumni Center — the University’s “Front Door” — built.
At the groundbreaking ceremony for the center in November 1997, U President Nils Hasselmo presented Laukka, who had spearheaded the efforts, with a bulldog in recognition of his persistence.
Laukka, of Edina, died from cancer on May 8. He was 84.
When he got involved with the project, which was built entirely with privately raised funds, Laukka had been active in residential building and development since 1962.
“He had the long view,” said Doug Wallace, who first met Laukka when they were freshmen at the U in 1954, “and the understanding if you want to build a meaningful, lasting project, you have to have a sense of vision and direction to pursue it. And you have to stay with it with persistence, commitment and dedication.”
Laukka played a volunteer role on other prominent campus projects. He helped create the Scholar Walk — a pedestrian walkway on the main campus that highlights the accomplishments of selected U graduates — and in the project that determined the best use of the UMore development in Rosemount.
He also served on the Alumni Association’s board of directors and was the president of the University of Minnesota National Alumni Association in 1995.
Former Alumni Association CEO Margaret Sughrue Carlson said: “I had the privilege of working with thousands of talented volunteers. Larry was in a league of his own. He provided me with the best advice that I’ve used … and passed along to others. Larry was a legend, a force-of-nature, an irrepressible spirit and an entrepreneur at heart. I’ll be forever grateful for being able to partner with him, Fred Friswold, Tom LaSalle, and eventually others, to transform the campus. The McNamara Alumni Center is in recognition of our mutual love for our alma mater.”
Laukka was born to Mary and Albert Laukka in 1936 in Minneapolis. The family moved to Rosemount, where Laukka attended a one-room schoolhouse from third to eighth grades. His family then moved back to Minneapolis, where Laukka attended Roosevelt High School.
After high school, he earned a degree in economics from the U. After graduation in 1958 he served in the Army. He returned to Minneapolis after his service and worked for a mutual fund company before going to work in 1962 for Pemtom, a Twin Cities residential development company.
In 1972, he formed Laukka Development and over the next 45 years built and developed more than 6,000 housing units in the Twin Cities — including Windsor Green in New Brighton, Minnesota’s first major community association.
He also founded the Minnesota Housing Institute and helped develop the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
In August 2017 he helped organize a University of Minnesota Foundation fundraiser for cancer research at the U’s Masonic Cancer Center.
The fundraising effort, called Chainbreaker, featured a 25-mile bicycle ride with every rider-raised dollar going to cancer research. At age 81, and several days after he had been diagnosed with Stage III esophageal cancer, Laukka rode the entire route.
Laukka is survived by Mary, his wife of 59 years; son Michael; daughters Suzanne Burnett and Beth Wood; nine grandchildren and sister Patricia Rossiter.
A celebration of Laukka’s life will be held at a later date.