Students in SOC/CLD 571 Rural Sociology celebrate the life of the oldest rural sociologist in the nation.

Dr. Olaf Larson, professor emeritus at Cornell University passed away just 3 months shy of reaching 108 years old. He was the oldest sociologist and the oldest rural sociologist in the U.S.

CLD Professor Julie N. Zimmerman began working with Olaf when she was a first year PhD student at Cornell University and since then they published three books together. Each of the books examined the USDA’s Division of Farm Population and Rural Life which was the first unit of the federal government devoted to sociological research and at which Olaf worked from 1938-1946.

Dr. Larson began his career in 1936 and was a professor in the first Department of Rural Sociology in the nation. He was at the meeting where it was decided to form the Rural Sociological Society (RSS) and he was among its first members. He was president of the RSS in 1957-58 and in 1985 received the Society’s highest honor. In 1954, he was voted into the elite and very prestigious Sociological Research Association.
Much of Dr. Larson’s research over the years focused on issues facing rural areas at the time. He presented his research to the U.S. Congress including the Subcommittee on Low Income Families for the U.S. Congressional Joint Committee on the Economic Report and he presented his work with Minnie Miller Brown on Black farmers to the Congressional Black Caucus. He was also invited to prepare a report on migratory agricultural workers which was then published in Rural Poverty in the Unites States for President Lyndon Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Rural Poverty – to name but a few.
Even before Dr. Olaf Larson’s passing the week before Thanksgiving, Dr. Zimmerman was already scheduled to visit Dr. Rosalind Harris’ SOC/CLD 517 Rural Sociology class to talk about the history of rural sociology. Prior to the class, the students had been assigned to read a chapter Dr. Zimmerman had written that used her experiences with Dr. Larson to talk about the history of rural sociology. The chapter, "I Could Tell Stories 'Til the Cows Come Home: Individual Biography Meets Collective Biography," is in J. I. (Hans) Bakker’s Rural Sociologists at Work: Candid Accounts of Theory, Methods and Practice published in 2015 by Routledge.
During the class, Dr. Zimmerman shared stories of her years working with Olaf Larson, stories about the history of rural sociology that she learned from Olaf, and they celebrated his life and honored his passing. At the break, Dr. Rosalind Harris, Dr. Zimmerman, and the students posed for the photo with Olaf featured on the screen.