Oral History Project:
Autobiographical Stories of Women From Chandler as Told to CGCC Students in partnership with Chandler Museum's Public History Program
Oral History of Michel Larson
Written by: Paula Moran & Lisa Schwalger

Michel Larson Interviewed by Paula Moran and Lisa Schwalger On September 23, 2004

Michel Larson was born in August 1936 in the Sand Hills of Nebraska in her grandmother’s back bedroom. Her mother, Frances Pfeiffer Ellis Palmer, was born in Nebraska and her father, Paul Ellis, was born in Iowa. Michel’s maternal grandparents were Velma & Otto Pfeiffer of Nebraska, and her paternal grandparents were Guy & Bertha Ellis of Iowa. Michel’s parents met while attending high school and married in 1934 while attending college. Her parents divorced when she was five years old at the start of World War II. Michel recalls being the only person she knew who came from a divorced family. Michel’s father worked as an electrical engineer and helped install control towers throughout the South Pacific. He spent most of his adult life living in Hawaii. Michel’s mother later remarried and recently celebrated her 90th birthday. Michel has two younger sisters, including a half-sister.

Michel grew up in a small mid-western town in Iowa of approximately 450 people. She fondly recalls her childhood and the sense of community within the small town that she lived in where nobody locked their doors. Her small town social life changed when she was bused into a larger town of 12,000 to attend high school. Some of Michel’s favorite school activities included going to the movies, school activities, dating, and going to football games. Michel’s favorite subjects included English, psychology, Latin and drama. Some of Michel’s close childhood friends included, Bobbie, Joanne and Marla, who were all from the big town. Interestingly, Michel is still in contact with her childhood friend, Bobbie who currently resides in Missouri. In high school, Michel enjoyed participating in drama and speech clubs and had the lead in the high school senior play.

Growing up, Michel’s mom was strict and always kept a tight reign on her. She was the oldest child and had a strict curfew of 11:00pm. Her mom would flicker the porch light if she was found kissing her date to remind her that curfew meant being inside the house. Once, she was confined to quarters for the entire summer for ignoring the light and being 15 minutes late.

After high school, Michel pursued her educational dream of becoming a nurse. She attended the St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing in Iowa, 30 miles away from home. This 3-year course allowed her to live away from home for the first time in a dormitory with her childhood friend Bobbie. Education was always very important in Michel’s family; her sisters, parents and grandparents were all well educated. Guy and Bertha Ellis were both ordained ministers, and Velma Pfeiffer was a teacher. Both of Michel’s sisters have Master’s Degrees in Social Work and Education. Michel recalls that it wasn’t, “if you go to college…it was when you go to college.”

Michel met her future husband, Jym, three months prior to her graduation from nursing school. She was living 200 miles away from the main campus, completing her training at a psychiatric hospital. She went on a date with an orderly from the hospital to a bar that was supposed to be off-limits to the students. Jym recognized the orderly and was curious about Michel and came over to meet her. Jym had recently returned from the Korean War and was playing cards at the bar. The relationship grew but Michel thought that the geographical distance would complicate things. After Michel finished her nurse training at the psychiatric hospital, Jym traveled the 200 miles to visit her, and she realized that she better re-evaluate their relationship.

After graduating from nursing school, Michel worked for one year as an operating room nurse and was paid $275.00 per month. Along with a friend from school, they rented a furnished 3rd story apartment in Des Moines and had all the money they needed and more! Jym and Michel’s courtship lasted a year and a half. They were married at the home of Jym’s parents. She fondly recalls her beautiful garden wedding and that she sewed the bridesmaids’ dresses herself.

After Jym finished his education, they made a trip to Chandler with their oldest daughter, Randi, who was four years old, to visit friends. Jym had problems with arthritis, and they thought that leaving the cold and moving to Arizona might improve his arthritis. While visiting, Jym’s arthritis improved and the Larsons decided to move to Chandler. They felt that the small town of Chandler would help them recreate the small town atmosphere of their childhood. When the Larsons moved to Chandler in August of 1960, the population was approx. 12,000 people.

Michel planned to stay home with her growing family after arriving in Arizona. However, Jym, who had just received his MBA, was having a difficult time finding work for over two months, and finances were beginning to get tight. Michel decided to check job opportunities out at the hospital that was just around the corner, Chandler Regional Hospital. Michel was hired on the spot and given a raise before she even started work. She remembers the beautiful new facility on the corner of McQueen and Chandler Blvd. It was a brand new 40-bed hospital, a major accomplishment for this small community. Because of her nursing education, it was never difficult for Michel to find employment. She has worked in all aspects of nursing including the operating room, emergency room, family practice and currently as a private home nurse for the terminally ill.

In the early years, Michel said that it was difficult to be a working mom, and they were often looked down upon by society. During the 60’s women weren’t encouraged to work outside of the home and if they did, they were expected to be super mom. They needed to be able to manage everything and that brought lots of pressure. If a woman did work she was expected to adapt to her husband’s work schedule. Pay disparity was a common issue of the time. Male nurses were highly prized and paid significantly more than female nurses. When Michel questioned that, she was told that men have a family to support, even though at the time her husband was in school and she was the primary financial support to her family. In spite of the challenges, Michel says that she gained lots of satisfaction from work.

Michel and Jym had traditional roles in parenting and the division of labor in the home; he had the outside and she had the inside. However as time passed roles began to change. Jym was a great cook and Michel like to garden. They often cooked several meals together during the weekend so that dinner would be ready when they came home from work. Michel has three children: Randi, a Nurse Educator at Chandler Regional Hospital, Tym, a Firefighter/Paramedic in Eloy and Tammi who works as a Office Manager at a Real Estate Office. As children, they all had chores, and they knew that they better be completed by the time that Mom came home from work.

Michel enjoyed the sense of community she felt in Chandler. She remembers her children playing with the neighborhood kids, family barbeques and picking up mail for the neighbors. She especially liked the fact that everyone knew each other. This sense of community insulated her to the social issues of the time.

Michel’s husband, Jym died at the young age of 53 from a sudden heart attack. She remembers Jym as a man who was very talented and methodical with his hands. He enjoyed making beautiful items for fun and a wide range of hobbies. Michel currently works as a private home nurse for the terminally ill. In her spare time she volunteers as the President of the Chandler Historical Society, a position that she has held for the past three years. She enjoys beings involved in the community and meeting lots of interesting people. Michel has mixed emotions about the growth of Chandler. She misses the small town feeling, especially, going to Serrano’s for dinner and knowing everyone there. Currently, she has four grandchildren, 2 attending college and 2 in elementary school. She sums up her life in the following statement: “I’ve had a good life, and I’ve loved it.”

Photos courtesy of the family.

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