Larry Squire is the Regional President of Johnson Bank, President Elect of Janesville Morning Rotary Club, Mercyhealth Community Board Member, and Forward Janesville Board Member.
Where were you born?
I’m from Burlington Wisconsin, about an hour east of here, but we’ve been in Janesville for 28 years. We came here in 1990.
Tell me about your family life.
I grew up on a farm in Burlington, WI. Dad is 88, my mom’s been gone four years now. I had the fortunate experience of growing up on a dairy farm where we also had hogs, strawberries, cabbage and asparagus. That taught me the value of hard work. We had a wonderful community around us with the United Methodist Church, and my dad’s brother, my uncle, had the farm right next to us. My grandparents lived at the end of our driveway in another house. We had my cousins and our neighbors nearby, just a great way of growing up. I wouldn’t trade that life experience for anything!
Cindy and I met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We were married in 1982. I held several jobs before moving to Janesville. I worked at Del Monte Foods, went back and farmed full time, went into banking with an agribusiness career in between. Cindy, who has an accounting background, worked in Milwaukee and Waukesha. We adopted Joel from Bogota, Colombia at age three in 1988. That was while we were still in Waukesha. When we moved to Janesville, she was pregnant with Greg.
Seven years later we were at a spot in our lives where we thought about adopting again and thought that if we were going to do it, we should do it now. Foreign adoptions had become really difficult in Central and South America. At that time, China was just opening up, and all the stars lined up. The timing was right, so away we went in 1992. Those were amazing experiences.
When we got Laura, she was 15 months old. We went back to China in July 2015 and, again in July 2016, when Laura was 20 and when she was 21. When we were getting ready to go in 2015, we had sent some photos back to Nanning to Mother’s Love orphanage. Someone from Mother’s Love looked at the photo of the woman holding Laura and said, “I think I know her!” This woman had been Laura’s foster mom when she was a baby.
So, they tracked her down we got to go meet her while we were there. She was fairly old at that time, so Laura wanted to go back again before anything happened to her. We went back and stayed at the same hotel in Nanning that we stayed at when we adopted her. It was awesome.
In 2016 we were able to see the lady who started the orphanage, as well. Laura had come from a private orphanage, instead of a public orphanage, and so we were able to meet this woman, who works in Hong Kong now. It was really a fun connection.
What brought you to Rock County?
I was working for First Wisconsin Bank in Waukesha and we had a pick-your-own strawberry farm in Roscoe, Illinois. So, we were running the farm on nights and weekends, and it was getting to be too much of a drive. I was looking for something closer to be able to be within 20 minutes of the farm. And a job with Valley Bank became available, so I interviewed for it, and that’s what brought us here.
What were your first impressions of the area?
I had been familiar with Janesville, after growing up in southern Wisconsin. I really liked the size of it. I grew up on a farm, and then went to Madison for college. I was really comfortable with the size of the city, as well as its proximity to Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. It was in the perfect spot within an hour from anywhere you want to be.
Tell me about your career here.
I started out with Valley Bank. I was with them for a little over six years and then I took a new job with Johnson Bank as their Senior Lender. About five years after that, I was promoted to the Regional President. That’s who I am still today and I absolutely love it!
The work career has been fun, because in this job you get to have so many terrific connections and opportunities. People like Ron Ochs and Rollie McClellan helped me and have helped so many others. Career wise, I’m always considering, “How do you create an environment of success? How do you make yourself available?”
Tell me about the big school referendum here in Janesville?
Marshall Middle School had been completed and they had passed the referendum for the elementary school upgrades. Finally, they were trying to get a referendum to upgrade the high schools. They had tried a couple of times and couldn’t get it through. This was for both Craig and Parker. What I loved about that referendum is that in this community, because there are no parochial high schools, everyone usually goes through one of our two public high schools. This would serve the needs of all. No one could say, “Well, it’s not for me.”
I thought the referendum itself did a good job of balancing the needs at both schools, such as Parker needed new science improvements, plus a few new things at Craig and field houses at both. I thought it was a great thing for the community.
How did you and your wife, Cindy, become involved?
At the time, then Superintendent Tom Evert, who my wife Cindy and I knew, had known our capability. Cindy had been involved in PTA locally and at the state level and volunteered within the classrooms of our children. He came to us and said, “Are you willing to chair a committee to try and get the referendum through?” It hadn’t worked in the past, so they needed a different focus.
Cindy and I agreed, and Julie Ackerman was the Parker connection. Between the three of us, with some assistance through Forward Janesville and Bill McCoshen, we were successful. We formed a committee, TLC – “Tomorrow Lives Through Our Children.” Bill helped us with his consulting group to put together a questionnaire to really get at what the city wanted. We wanted to discover what the community wanted out of the schools, what was important.
We took that data and created a team to take the message out. Virginia Wyss and Don Dyke were our two secret weapons all along. They went to so many senior team meetings and things like that. They did a tremendous job. They were individuals that the community trusted and that they were doing it for the sake of the children. They were wonderful!
My role at that time was to be a face and a voice. Cindy and Julie put together a team that made phone calls and sent letters. They did an amazing job of finding the people and answering questions. This was unique to this effort at passing the referendum.
We were so lucky to get it done in 2006-’07, before the General Motors plant shut down. If you think about if we had waited two years, there’s no way. Where would we be with our high schools if we did not have the fortune and timing that we did to get it done? It was fantastic! It was one of those things that you look back on and say, “That was pretty cool.” It really was.
When both high schools are anchors in the community, where everyone goes through, whether it’s your kids, your neighbor’s kids, it was important. And if the community wants to continue to attract quality individuals, quality businesses, you have to have a quality education system.
So, it was huge, but a fun project.
Tell me about some of your community involvement.
I’m the President Elect of Morning Rotary, and I love it. I’ve been involved in the Lions and a number of the different service clubs, but I’m a morning person, and it’s also difficult to get away for lunch sometimes. Morning Rotary is a fun bunch!
What are some of your projects there?
I was intimately involved in the foreign exchange program. I managed that for the Morning Rotary for a long time. That was a blast getting to know some of those students. We still stay in touch with some of those kids.
We’re in the process now of looking into our next big project, which will hopefully have a connection to the downtown. We’re connected to Rotary Gardens, too.
One of our bigger things is giving back to the non-profits in the community. We’re in the process of evaluating grants for us to give donations to them.
What have been some of your other activities in the community?
There have been a variety of things. At Monroe School I was involved in Scouts. I was a Scout Master there, as my boys were in Scouts.
Through my work I’ve also been connected with Forward Janesville for a very long time. I’ve been Chair and on a number of committees for them. I’ve also served on the board of the YMCA of Northern Rock County, and on the Mercy Hospital Board. I was on the main board there until the merger with Rockford Memorial and when that change occurred, I moved onto the Community Board. I still love it.
When we went through the difficulties of the recession, to have Mercy Health System, a key employer in the community, to have their senior management here, to be a core, that was a big deal. This community has been fortunate to have an employer like that in this market.
Cargill United Methodist Church has been a great place to just be involved and to support. It’s a fantastic community. We have a men’s group, and we meet there every Friday morning at 5:30. It’s getting to be closer to 5:45, now that we’re getting older. We’ve been meeting for the last 20 years!
How did you help get the Live Nativity at Cargill started?
The idea came from the church where I grew up, in Burlington, where they had a live Nativity service in the barn every Christmas Eve. It was a beautiful and wonderful service. I was around 10 or 11 years old the first time they did it. I remember it so well. This year is their 50th year.
When it was being discussed here at Cargill United Methodist, everyone was enthusiastic and on board. The pastor was so supportive, as well. This was our seventh year. It’s outside on Saturday and Sunday night for one weekend in December. There’s a bunch of wonderful people involved. Barb Dougal and Dave Kemp are two key people who make it happen. We have live animals, including camels. I love it, it’s very cool.
What are some changes you’ve witnessed over the years?
When you look at the economy, I don’t think any of us expected what happened. When I moved here 28 years ago, nobody could have anticipated what was going to happen with the timing of a recession and GM’s closure. I think that’s one of those economic hits where everyone was affected by that dual issue.
To watch the community work through that has been a very interesting transformation. To look at where we were, what we looked and felt like in the mid-late 2000’s to what we look and feel like today, it’s amazing.
I see us going forward right now. I just feel so good about it. Certainly, it helps that the economy has some lift and some energy in it. But, now we have diversification that’s completely different from where we were. And certainly, we miss the job pay of the UAW and GM workers, and we also miss the Parker Pen group and a number of businesses like that.
But if we take a look at Prent, Panoramic, SSI, Grainger, Dollar General, SHINE. That’s an amazing example. There’s just plenty of great stuff going on.
Where do you see our community now?
Right now, I think we’re in a different spot relative to city management, the City Council, their perspective on moving us forward. There’s more cohesion in this city. For so long we heard the vocal minority and the negatives.
Finally, through Forward Janesville and through the encouragement and action of the City of Janesville we’re making great strides. We have to go there and say, “We’re excited about this!” The majority has to be vocal, we can’t assume it’ll find its own course. You have to show up!
The City of Janesville is in the early stages of implementing the ARISE plan for our downtown. This is a long-term plan to make our downtown the heart of our community and a vibrant place to work, live and enjoy. As part of the ARISENow team, I am excited to be involved with the public-private partnership between local groups and the City of Janesville to move ARISE forward. It is an exciting project for Janesville.
So, I think that’s something each of us has to realize, that we have to show up. What we use at the bank is “positively persistent”. You don’t know when the right time will be, but if you’re not out there, you’re going to miss it. You’ve got to be out there.
I think the momentum is completely different. You spend longer at a stoplight. Now it’s six cars deep instead of one. As you spend more time downtown and if you’re walking around, it’s completely different than what it was five years ago. There’s increased traffic, a different energy and attitude. It’s all on an uplift!
If you look out in the community, you can feel the pride in what’s going on. Now there’s a housing shortage, but the problems we have are solvable problems, and are the result of positive things happening. Then you can have strategic plans and alternatives to solving them. We also have to understand that there will be consequences with the growing pains, but that’s so much better than having to deal with the negative consequences.
I see a lot of positive opportunities here.
What was a significant historical event that affected you?
I can remember where I was when first I heard about the towers on 9/11. I was in a car on Highway 26, going east out of Milton. That’s the one event that sticks in my mind as an impactful point in time. How we continue to respond to that as a society and a culture is ongoing. I don’t think we’ve reached an end to that. Maybe it’s a lifelong journey.
What is it about Rock County that keeps you here?
Well, a couple of grandkids always helps! Our son, Greg, is married and living in Michigan. Our other son, Joel, is here in town. Laura is a senior in college this year and will graduate in May. We don’t know where she’s going to be.
We still like this area. It’s a half hour to Madison, an hour to Milwaukee and an hour and a half to Chicago. You can get anywhere you want pretty quickly, and it’s so convenient.
Certainly, the connections we have, the people, they are what keep us here. This is entrenched, this is home.