Lawrence Victor Oakes III, 52, a peerless journalist, an adept handyman, a non-judgemental and remarkable listener, a deeply loving father and husband, and an uncompromising champion of the human spirit, died Friday night near his home and family in Duluth.
Larry was born Lawrence Victor Oakes III in Minneapolis to Lawrence Victor Oakes II and Carol (Johnson) Oakes.
He spent his early formative years in Duluth, where his strong bond with an immense lake against a large hill was formed. When his father moved his family to Cass Lake to become a banker, Larry's singular relationship with the north woods of Minnesota blossomed further. Due largely to his resourceful, hard-working parents, Larry Jr. grew to be a man before he was a teenager. He became a jack-of-all-trades northwoodsman, cleaning the day's catch at McArdle's Resort during the summer, hunting deer with his father and brother in the fall.
During high school, Larry met and fell in love with Sherry Kapitzke. Upon his graduation, they moved to Duluth where Larry began school at UMD and worked as a mechanic at the Amoco station on London Road. Larry and Sherry married in 1979, and in 1980, their son Michael was born. Following a couple of years at the journalism school at the University of Minnesota, Larry was hired as a reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. Shortly after their return to the Twin Ports, Larry and Sherry had their second child, a daughter, Amy. He was just 22.
Larry began at the Star Tribune in 1985, becoming the paper's Northern Minnesota Correspondent in 1988. He again moved back to Duluth, where his heart had been since his childhood. He met Patricia Behning in 1990 and again, fell in love. They were married at the historic Glensheen Mansion along his favorite lake in 1991. A year later, Hilary, Larry's third child, was born.
Larry's corny jokes and boisterous laughter were the cornerstones of the house on the eastern hillside of Duluth in which he raised his family with unfathomable love, devotion and kindness. Somehow, he had time to make continuous improvements on the house that would make jealous the most adept contractor. But it was his love for his wife and children that fueled him and made him the ridiculously special man that he was. That special man believed so much in the human spirit that he could be found, on any given day, taking in an elderly aunt to avoid her placement in a old-folks home or saving a destitute uncle from the cold city streets. And that kindness extended to complete strangers; Larry rarely passed a hitchhiker he didn't attempt to help.
Always looking for a new project and intrigued by his heritage, Larry delved into his family's genealogy in the late 1990s. His avocation project culminated with a fact-finding family trip to Sweden and Norway in 2002. That trip did more than teach us about dead relatives; it instilled in us the value of our ancestors' sacrifices which allows us to be here today. Sadly while we were there, he insisted on trying to speak Swedish despite the vehement protestations of his family. That was the only thing I can recall him not doing well.
Larry also followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a part of the local Masonic Lodge and tradition. He became increasingly passionate about his masonic work, becoming at one point a Master of the Glen Avon Lodge and a member of the Duluth Valley of the Scottish Rite.
Larry's Duluth office closed in 2008 amid budget cuts at the paper, and he was transferred back down to the Minneapolis newsroom. He was a city editor for a couple of years, but couldn't deny his passion for telling stories of the human condition and asked back into a reporter's role. The journalism world was grateful he did.
He died in a place he loved more than any other, overlooking the lake that had comforted him his entire life, on a hillside that gave him strength.
Larry is survived by his wife Patricia; his son Michael; daughters Amy (Jonathon) Mertz and Hilary; grandchildren Emily and Elijah Mertz -- all of Duluth; his parents Larry and Carol Oakes of Bemidji; brother Gregory (Martha) Oakes and their daughter Sarah of Westfield Center, Ohio; sister Brenda Bailey of Bemidji; nephew Steven VanKauwenbergh; uncle David Johnson of Bemidji; aunt Audrey (Jack) Phillips of Coon Rapids; in-laws Gerald and Gladys Behning of Duluth and Mission, Texas; former wife Sheryl Hildebrand of Hibbing, and extended family, friends and colleagues the world 'round.
GATHERING OF FAMILY AND FRIENDS: 11 a.m. Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 until the 1 p.m. memorial service at the Harborside Ballroom at the DECC.
Memorials are preferred and may be directed to the family. Larry's family intends to establish a Journalism Scholarship in Larry's name, and an educational trust for his grandchildren.
Arrangements by dougherty Funeral Home, Duluth, 727-3555.