Larry Watson

  • BS Forestry 1951
  • BS Civil Engineering 1958
Larry Watson, '51 and '58, is a retired businessman who has realized success, stewardship, and a meaningful life. All three are behind his financial support of Michigan Tech.

"I like seeing Michigan Tech grow," he says. "It's satisfying to see it do well. Tech's reputation is as good, or better, than it's ever been. You like to think you had a small part in that."

Not a small part by any means. Besides over thirty years of annual support, Watson and his wife, Joanne, established a charitable gift annuity with the Michigan Tech Fund in 2003, funding it with appreciated securities.

"A gift annuity is a good arrangement," he says. "It's an excellent way to enhance our income while living - and still help the University after we're gone. We also like the income tax advantages."

A native of Battle Creek, now from Portage, Michigan, Watson came north for college. He heard about Tech from a high school counselor whose grandfather was one of Tech's first graduates. "She talked up Michigan Tech," Watson recalls. He studied at the Sault Ste. Marie campus for two years and then came to Houghton. Upper Michigan, he says, "was a great place to live and go to school."

Always interested in the outdoors, Watson aspired to be a forester. After graduating in 1951 with a degree in forestry, he served two years in the US Army Corps of Engineers and then found work in Lower Michigan as a land surveyor.

He says Tech prepared him well for the workaday world. The highlight of his education was the forestry summer camp: Camp Pori, which was a former CCC camp turned German POW camp, near Mass City. Rustic and remote, it included a cook house and barracks - Spartan living conditions combined with extensive field work. "It was a beautiful way to spend a summer."

While his heart was in the bush, the jobs weren't. So he returned to Tech and earned another bachelor's degree in 1958, in civil engineering.

He then started working for a firm that ultimately became Ingersoll, Watson & McMachen Inc., of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He spent the rest of his career there, retiring in 1994 as a principal and president. The firm, still in existence, specializes in land use, land planning, and the design of subdivisions. His work was a creative undertaking, Watson says. "It's something I loved to do, and I think I was pretty good at it."

Civil engineering proved to be "a good way to make a living," and he translated that opportunity into prominence in his field. Along with other industry and community involvement, he was a member of the Michigan Land Surveyors Society and a trustee of the group's foundation, which created the first and only museum of surveying in the US. Founded in the late 1970s, the museum is located in Lansing.

Watson left Tech with two diplomas - and a wife, the former Joanne Mitchell of Hancock, who was a nurse. "A very good partner," Watson says. They have two children: a daughter, Kathleen, and a son, Tom, also a graduate of Tech.

Excerpted from Foresight, Fall 2008