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When Larry moved into his new home two years ago, he had a little trouble adjusting. It took him at least a couple of hours.
Larry Bauer-Scandin was just 64 when he rolled into Ecumen Seasons of Maplewood. The mysterious nervous system disorder afflicting him since childhood was beginning to seriously limit his mobility and keep him in constant pain.
So that first night, feeling a little down, he pulled his motorized chair over to a window, looked out and wondered: “Is this it?”
He pondered that question. And then he did what he’s done his entire life. He moved on. He’s a tolerant guy, but if there is one thing he cannot abide, it’s a “poor-me” attitude.
The next day he was ready to start this new chapter in his life. Time to settle in, hang some pictures, make himself at home. After all, as Larry puts it, “There’s always somebody who needs something.”
No doubt, Larry has had more misfortune than most. When he was lying in his hospital bed for more than four months at age 9, unable to move, he had a lot of time to watch and listen and think. It changed him forever. He was never the same after he heard that little girl down the hall shriek the night she died.
His journey over the next few years had a few false starts, but Larry found his way and his calling. He was not meant to be a priest. Seminary didn’t take. As it turned out, his calling was to help people that nobody else cared about—murderers, rapists, drug dealers, gangbangers. He was a parole officer, jail counselor and a juvenile officer. He started dealing with kids that nobody wanted, the really tough delinquent cases that the system had totally given up on. The hopeless cases.
But by then Larry had decided nothing was hopeless. He started taking in a few of these abandoned teenagers as a correctional foster parent. The number started to build when it became clear to the juvenile authorities that Larry would take most anybody without flinching and, more importantly, would have a considerable amount of success turning these young lives around. At one time, he was taking care of 17 teenagers at the same time, buying meat to feed them by the hundreds of pounds, filling four freezers and three refrigerators.
During that time, Larry saw it all. Like a kid whose mother sold him into prostitution on the street. Like a kid who got cocaine as a birthday present.
Today as Larry sits in his assisted living apartment at Ecumen Seasons of Maplewood he can look proudly at a full wall of his children’s photos hanging in his office. There have been about 125 in all. The oldest is 59, the youngest 33. Some pictures really stand out. There’s the Saint Paul cop. “Every time I hear about a shooting in Saint Paul,” Larry says, “I pick up the phone and call him to make sure he’s all right.” And there’s the Marine, and the soldier in the field in Afghanistan. “And this kid here,” Larry says, “I’m pretty sure he’s a millionaire. He came from wealth but is totally estranged from his real parents. But he’s built a very successful business from the ground up.”
And then, there are the kids who are dead, Larry says, choking up. He does that a lot. He’s a tough guy who thought nothing of walking on a prison floor to diffuse gang tension. But he’s an emotional guy who tears up when he thinks about his kids.
Make no mistake, they are his kids. They call him “Dad.” He is the only real dad most of them have ever known. About 20 of them still stay in very close touch, especially the ones who still live in the area. Larry wishes he could get them all together someday for a picture.
Once he was on the Today Show, and Katie Couric asked Larry the most important thing he had taught his kids. “How to hug,” he said.
So these days, two years into assisted living, Larry finds plenty to do. He’s just gotten a kitten named “Little Bit” to hang all over him. And he’s always on the lookout for someone who needs a little help—or maybe needs a little lecture about how to treat people. Maybe he’ll make sure this lady gets her hearing aid battery changed. Or maybe he’ll have a chat with this gentleman who has just yelled at a staff member for no good reason. Or maybe he’ll roll down to see Joe, the housing manager, about a few things around the place that are bugging him. A guy who’s raised 125 teenagers is not shy about speaking up.
Raising all those kids, he’s learned a few things about keeping order. He’s always watching what’s going on, what’s being said, what’s not being said. Intervening when necessary. Saying what he thinks needs to be said. Shocking people from time to time with his bluntness and the rude bumper stickers on the back of his motorized chair.
In 2010, Larry published his autobiography, “Faces on the Clock.” The title refers to the finite time everyone has on this earth and what we do with that time. He’s thinking he might write a sequel.
The illness that has brought Larry to assisted living is still not definitively diagnosed. He’s seen a lot of doctors over the years and gotten a lot of different opinions. But now he’s decided he just doesn’t care about that any more. It is what it is.
He recalls talking to a doctor recently who asked him if he was depressed. “No,” Larry said without hesitation. “Why would I be depressed?”
“Well,” the doctor said, “I think you’d be crazy not to be.”
But on the balance sheet of fortune and misfortune, Larry figures he’s come out ahead. After all, he’s got many hundreds of faces on his clock.