PASSAGES: FORMER GUHSD BOARD PRESIDENT LARRY URDAHL, RESPECTED PUBLIC EDUCATION ADVOCATE
By Miriam Raftery
December 1, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – Larry Urdahl, a former Alpine resident who served as President of the Grossmont Union High School District Board and as a Trustee from 2004-2008, has died of liver cancer on November 28 at a hospital in Sedona, Arizona. Urdahl also served as president of the Alpine High School Citizens Committee. A long-time advocate for public education, he stood up against the GUHSD board majority on behalf of students and parents, fighting for a new Alpine High School in Alpine and against conversion to a charter district.
“Larry and fellow Grossmont Board member, Priscilla Schreiber, tirelessly fought for our high school and we are all indebted to them for getting us so close to that goal,” Sal Casamissima, current president of the AHSCC, wrote in an email today.
Schreiber told ECM that she was shocked and saddened to hear of Urdahl’s passing. “I last spoke to him right after the election, when he called to congratulate me,” she said. “I got to tell him how much I loved him and how grateful I was to have him as a friend, a confidant, and former board colleague. He affectionately called me, "Mrs. "T", for "Trouble" and I will miss his calls with that greeting.”
She suggested a fitting legacy for her former colleague. “I am hopeful that the Grossmont board will honor him for his efforts on both Prop H and Prop U, as he was so instrumental in the successful passage of both," she said of the bond measures that funded construction of new modern facilities on campuses districtwide. "There are plaques on our new buildings with board member's names who fought against Prop U, while Larry worked so hard to make what's going on today a reality and there is no recognition.” She concluded, “ He truly made a difference for students.”
Urdahl is survived by his wife, Rose, who posted this message on his Facebook page today: “My BEST FRIEND, the love of my life!!” He is also survived by two daughters, Kimberly Urdahl and Debby Urdahl Reed.
A memorial service in San Diego is being discussed, Schreiber told ECM.
GUHSD trustee Dick Hoy, posted that his thoughts and prayers are with the family. “Larry is truly missed,” he added.
Urdahl was the president and founder of American Portfolio Management in Sedona , past president of LRT Asset Recovery in San Diego, and also served as president of American Collection Consultants locally. Along with Rose, he co-founded Rose’s Elegance in Wood, an art and educational gallery in Sedona. He studied mathematics at San Diego State University and also attended San Diego City College.
Urdahl emerged as an independent thinker who stood up against GUHSD board president Jim Kelly on key issues during one of the most divisive eras in the district’s history. A staunch conservative Republican, he also stood up against fellow trustee Ron Nehring, then chairman of the San Diego Republican Party, voting to overturn a Nehring-backed plan to create a charter district.
In the 2006 election, Urdahl endorsed Democrat Ken Sobel and independent Dick Hoy. Hoy won, creating a new majority along with Urdahl and Schreiber. But in what Schreiber described as “payback,” a vicious campaign to oust Urdahl in 2008 was launched. Opponents attacked Urdahl for personal financial troubles and made unsubstantiated allegations related to campaign financing. Urdahl lost his reelection bid, but not before accomplishing significant goals.
He has stated that he took pride in pushing adoption of a strategic vision plan for the district and in voting to hire Superintendent Bob Collins. Urdahl was also instrumental in seeking a bond performance audit, which led to hiring of a bond oversight committee, he told ECM. “With the previous board, there were a lot of articles attacking the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee and progress on the bond itself. We needed to take action, and that’s what we did.” Afterwards cost overruns dropped significantly.
In the end, he concluded at the time, “People are happy with the forward progress of the district.”
He also spoke out against what he perceived as corruption and divisiveness within his own party locally under the control of party chairman Tony Krvaric and even contemplated writing a book on that topic, he once told ECM's editor.
In his later years, Urdahl grew disillusioned with the partisan divide across our nation.On November 6, Election Day, he posted on his Facebook page, "I have had [it] with all the politics...I have dropped out of the `Let's hate everyone that doesn't agree' America."
Urdahl’s most lasting legacy, however, may be yet to come. Alpine residents continue his fight to build a new high school in Alpine. Supporters are now pushing to break away their community from the GUHSD through unification to enable the Alpine Unified School District, currently K-8, to expand and include high school education.
“Larry’s name has come up frequently in recent weeks as he almost single-handedly gathered the necessary signature petitions for Alpine’s first unification effort almost a decade ago, “Cassamissimo reflected. We are now trying to replicate his success in our current petition effort and our best tribute to him will be to meet that goal.”
If adopted, unification would enable the AUSD to finally build a new high school that the current GUHSD board majority has blocked, providing a lasting legacy from Urdahl for all young people in Alpine.