Friends pay tribute to Larry Johnston
Larry Johnston was an adventurer. He was known for his boundless energy, generosity and left-field thinking. He could see colors that weren’t there. He was a devoted father and husband, a mentor, an inspiration, an elected official and community leader. Born on May 2, 1950, he died on March 13, following a brief but courageous battle with cancer. He was 67.
Larry was born in Turlock, California to Leslie and Live a Johnston. He graduated from Oakdale High School and went on to earn a degree in Environmental Planning and Management from the University of California, Davis.
After working for 15 years as a city planner for the City of Merced, Johnston moved to the Eastside in 1988. He subsequently started LK Johnston and Associates, firm that specialized in environmental assessment and project review. He worked with the Town to draft its first Parks and Recreation Element, and mapped out the initial glut of bicycle trails and paths, many of which are in existence today. His wife Karen said Larry worked tirelessly on projects he believed in.
He continued his public service career in 2010 when he was elected to be the District 1 Mono County Supervisor.
Larry had been a tri-athlete when he lived in Merced, but he stuck to his bicycle when he moved to the Eastside. In the 1990s, in search of a new challenge, he decided he wanted to ride across the Western United States, one at
a time, and later Canada. He handpicked a gang of bikers and set off on adventures, first supported, and then just with what they could carry in their panniers.
Larry footed the bulk of the bill for the trips, but every day after the rides, the bikers would flip coins to determine who would pay for that night’s dinner.
According to Larry’s partners, a major highlight of any ride with Larry was the Pink Weenie. On one adventure, a faded Wienerschnitzel-antennaed hot dog cozy was found on the side of the road and later became a symbol of boneheadedness. The rider with the biggest screw up of the day would have to wear the weenie on his helmet or lapel the entire day next day. The rider who earned the weenie on the last day of the trip got to hold onto the figurine until next year’s adventure. That person was also guaranteed to be selected to ride that next year.
“There were a chosen few willing to do something this crazy,” said Chuck Satterfield about the bike rides. He rode on several.
Carl Teller, one of Larry’s closest friends and a veteran of many rides, said the trips traveled through some of the most beautiful places in the West. Riders were been bound by tradition not to divulge the numbers or names of the highways they traversed in Utah.
The trips were full of extra adventures and side trips, including rounds of golf, trips to hot springs, and dipping the front rims of their bicycles in the Arctic Ocean.
Arguably the most memorable ride was in Alaska; an 860-mile trip from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay. Teller said the trip involved riding for four days on pavement and six days on dirt haul roads full of racing big rigs. Every 10 or 20 miles, the riders would gather buckets of water to wash the Alaskan mud off their bikes and rain gear.
He climbed or walked up his personal tick list of every high point in the United States, including Alaska’s Denali. Karen said Larry never took no for an answer and it was that attitude that inspired him to climb Denali, Mt. Logan, Mt. Rainier, Popocatepetl, the Grand Teton, Half Dome and many other peaks.
The license plate on his sports car read, “Undaunted.”
John Boyer went with Larry on many trips; whether to bicycle, golf, or canoe, and said those experiences made an impact on him. “I’ll ever go bike riding or golfing or canoeing again without thinking of Larry,” said Boyer.
Caesar Godinez, a mechanic at Mammoth Chevron called Larry “genuine and original.” He said he was the kind of guy that would go out of his way to help somebody, whether he knew them or not.
John Teller first came to know Larry through his annual Haunted House—like most kids in Mammoth. At age 19, John rode with Larry and others as part of the famous Alaska bike trip. Larry endured not just the miles but Alaskan bugs, mud, and 24-hour sunlight. He pushed through obstacles to achieve his goals. He said the trip was a true testament to the kind of man Larry was.
John described Larry as being neither conservative nor liberal. He said he had a different way of seeing things than most people.
Carl Teller said Larry wouldn’t intentionally play devil’s advocate but that he fought for what was right. “Sometimes it sounded like what he was saying was coming out of left field, but he saw things differently. Like he was seeing a color that wasn’t there,” Carl said.
Larry loved to hit the golf links and was known to go out with two sets of clubs and balls and play against himself. He was a club champion at Snowcreek. He coached Little League for 14 years.
In Town, Larry is best known for his Halloween haunted houses and elaborate Fourth of July parade floats. These creations were movie-themed, and one of the biggest was Pirates of the Caribbean. A full-sized ship blew through Mammoth, complete with a collapsible mast to get under stop lights and low-hanging wires.
Friend Chuck Thuot called Larry “an inferno of inspiration” and said he would often undertake projects or adventures that might look impossible at first glance.
Larry is survived by his wife, Karen; daughters, Aria and Charity; sons, Logan and Keeler, siblings, Rita, Iris and Zane; sons-in-law, Larry and David; future daughter-in-law Crystal; grandchildren Lyric, Echo, Daphne, Violet and Juniper; and many other in-laws, nieces and nephews.
“But his spirit survives in all of his friends, family, and the community members whom he inspired,” Karen said. Services will be announced at a later date.