[HOME] [Resume'] [Hometown Hero]

We are the Heroes
we’ve been waiting for!

South Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound Washington State, USA, is full of amazing, heartfelt, talented, artistic, giving people. To celebrate this, reporter Susan Knickerbocker has been featuring a monthly “Hometown Hero” in the South Whidbey Record newspaper. I had the honor of being chosen. The article is published below:

 THE SOUTH WHIDBEY RECORD                           Nov 25 2006
 

Let your genius out of your bottle-neck


By SUSAN KNICKERBOCKER


Larry Dobson labeled by most that know him as a 'creative Hero pix_best
super genius with a giant heart', sees himself as “a frustrated
 inventor making a spectacle of myself on the fringes of traditional society.”

Dobson is an enormously creative person who willingly shares his gifts generously with others, says Sue Ellen White, freelance writer and editor.

 "Larry questions the way things are and imagines how they might be different.” He then proceeds to make these new solutions a new reality. Larry makes others and myself believe that our own ideas are possible. He is a person that spreads happiness. His education as a chemist could have given him a comfortable living, but he chose to help remake society instead and has had a lasting impact on so many people to live their own lives with intention, passion and fun. He's a person that inspires a belief that all things are possible."

Dobson believes all have a distinctive genius — if we don’t allow it to be stilted by the world’s norm.

He says, “faith in the appropriateness of life’s offerings, the certitude that love is the only true path, that children are our saviors if we just play with them, that this weirdly, insanely archaic world will soon evolve for the better.”

   Larry Dobson, Gabi Schoening and her daughter Samira toast on stilts to all our
"Higher Selves" that make us all heroes. The prototype wind turbine in the background is a radical
new design to harvest power from the wind (see http:/www.stiltman.com/htrnl/wind_power.html).

He has worked extensively with alternative Sources of Energy, written a research report for the U.S. Department of Energy on Biomass Energy, has contributed to multiple magazines, and has been an international presenter for conferences.

The humorous side of Dobson entertains others on tall stilts. His passion to stand tall was kindled at age 6 by a pair of stilts his dad built him. Has he fallen? You Betcha. One such fall was as Uncle Sam in Seattle's Torchlight Parade while leading a troupe of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

He recounts, "As I was waving triumphantly to the cheering peace-loving crowd, suddenly 10 ½ ft. below my preoccupied brain--my stiff wooden feet slammed into a mother of all road turtles in mid-stride, and Splat! Uncle Sam was ignobly rushed away in an ambulance with long red and white striped legs sticking out the open door.

 Isn't that the way life is, one minute you're looming large and invincible, the next its crash and burn."

Dobson's son Ian writes about his dad. "My dad is idealistic in every area of his life. He likes to play penny whistle and delight children walking as a 15 ft. high man on stilts. He is an idea man, a scientific, empirical mind, who can design and build anything. If I thought of a toy-like a fiberglass boat called "I am 4" or a ventriloquist doll, he built it. When I was 5 years old we camped out on some swamp land he purchased. I cherished these times with no electricity, where dad would read the Autobiography of Yogi and Lopsang Rampa. At the top of our swampy paradise he painted a colorful sign that read "Dinosaur Swamp, Sanctuary Mush." He was always willing to spend a lot of time with me, my only problem as a kid was sharing my super fun dad with my friends."

Even when Dobson was young, kids were fascinated with him. His younger brother and SW resident Bruce Dobson recounts about how he set up a workshop in their parents basement and made wooden toys for all the younger kids in the neighborhood. “Larry also built an underground camp, and someone talked us all into digging a secret hiding space under the floor boards. He also made himself a chemistry lab in the basement, and concocted many strange and wonderful things. He’s always willing to help me repair my tools, or help with building designs, and listening to my troubles and giving sage advise.” He says his brother is always open to new ideas, no matter how far out or out of the norm they are.

Dobson’s world is anything but the ‘norm’ he walks over 8 foot walls, dances and clean gutters on tall stilts, burns wet wood cleaner and more efficient than it has ever been done, builds radically new architecture with unique building techniques and tool designs.

Laurie Davenport owner of Casey's Crafts says,

"In Larry's world it's okay to walk on homemade coffee can stilts, hurtle through space on a rope attached to an experimental swing or spend countless hours working on a prototype sawdust burner that as it turns out is pretty darn efficient. But if the experiment fails he still has a twinkle in his blue eyes, because he doesn't take himself too seriously."

Dobson is able to laugh at himself, says Drew Kampion, publisher and author.

“Larry is the tallest man on Whidbey Island, and maybe the highest too! He’s high on life and its possibilities! He’s inventive and creative resourceful and optimistic -- one of the most inspiring members of our community — he’s an icon.”

Dobson says, he is here to explore beyond the frontiers of Normal, to discover some really fundamental truths, in the physical, social and spiritual worlds, and in so doing to inspire others to discover their unique talents, no matter how unconventional, that we all may live life fully enriching all.

When asking Dobson what normal was, he gave a magical “FUNdamental Geometry show, using inside-out-folding sets of blocks to show how our “normally” square cubic perspective on the world hides the simpler elementary view of matter at the atomic domain level.  Fascinating.

Next it's outside to his Giant spinning “Thinker toy” Swing, based on the same close-packed atomic structure, thrilling countless swingers since 1971. While swinging on his “Thinker toy,” Dobson speaks seriously about his vision of a fantasy Land he would like to create on his acreage offering “out of the box” family fun along with holistic healing opportunities. 

He remarks, while everyone is not an inventor by nature, everyone does have innate talents. “When we let these genius talents out of our bottle (necks) we excel at what we enjoy

doing most.” He speaks energetically. “Be bold and adventurous.   Safety Sucks….. replace fear-led caution with fine-tuned attention and mastery,” Dobson says. “Some see me as reckless and indulgent, but from here it looks like hesitant and reserved.”  “I walk on stilts as overcompensation for an inferiority complex and desire to be at the center of attention, but I'm not dangerous."

He laughs — but his smile disappears as he speaks most sincerely.

 “I have great concern for the people of this world. I wonder if there is anywhere on earth that is not now undergoing the death rattles of humanities crippling old ways, even as vast new hope is sprouting beneath the surface. I pray all will look unflinchingly at the world we have created, council deeply on the implications, then change it to what we really want, and then into what we have not dared dream it could become.”

This dare to dream thinking opens the heart and mind up to a universe of possibilities, and Dobson utilizes the entire universe, says owner of Island Hot Tubs Frazer Mann.

“For example he has designed and built one of the world’s most efficient bio-mass furnaces, and several building techniques for low cost energy efficient housing to help third world countries. Yet Larry will drop what he is doing to help someone solve a problem. Larry seeks to serve his community and the world for the highest good -- and he does.”

Personal questions?

What do you wish you could do over and better this time? “Nothing and everything. Because I learn no matter how disasterous.

Something most don’t know about you? “I’m actually shy and hesitant with deep issues of self failure.”

If you could ask God one question? “Who am I? Why do I limit myself so? Will it get easier and more rewarding soon?”

What are difficulties you’ve had to overcome? “Trying to understand women…”

What would you do if you won a thousand Roses? “Give a huge bouquet to my mom Rose, 93 year old. Then hand them out to street people in Seattle and anyone that looked bummed.”

BIO

Lawrence (Larry) Albert Dobson
Birthdate  7-16-1941 Seattle
Siblings 3
Education Shoreline High School Wa. Antioch College Ohio U. Of Tuebingen, Germany And ‘Life’s school of hard knocks’
Spouses #1 Paula Sullivan #2 Jerene #3 Gabi Shoeing (Gabi whom I love and admire greatly, with her deep insights and quite unconventionality to match my rebellious spirit)

Years on Whidbey-36 years minus 15 years in Seattle

Hobbies- dancing, drumming, playing penny whistle, trapeze,

A sample of what this Lad’s mind has come up with—houses and domes of unique geometry and technique, zig zag bookshelves, tiles Ferro cement hot tubs, ergonomic tools, prosthesis type stilts, vertical axis involute spiral drag propulsion wind turbine, octahedron tetrahedron tinker toys…web site www.stiltman.com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Many friends wrote touching letters to Susan for the article.  Since only a few excerpts made it into the newspaper, I am posting all of these letters here for all to enjoy, and so that my ego may be flattered so much that I don’t need to be the center of attention anymore.

 ”Larry is loving, fun, warmhearted, patient and has a profound trust in the overall goodness of this universe.  He is allowing everyone to be uniquely him- or herself and carries a vision of community. He is a true blessing in my life.”

 Gabi Schoening
Wishing Well, counseling, Ayurvedic & energy healing

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 ”Larry is my model of a man who has retained a childlike sense of wonder with the world, thus he is always fresh, curious, playful, and at times outrageous.”

 Larry Rohan

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Since my mother is 93 and was unable to write anything for the article, I am including her most recent comments about me from birthday cards.

“To Larry

 Twinkle, twinkle, Northern Light!
With your long legs painted bright
With your stride so firm and fine
I can’t believe you’re fifty-nine!

Want to try for a record?  Here’s to the next fifty-nine!

 Love and kisses,

 Mom”

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 ”Dear Larry

 I hope you realize how very much your being here means to me.  Thank you!  When I labored to give birth to you on our third wedding anniversary I had no idea you would be chauffeuring me around to various doctor appointments and peeling potatoes for me.  All without complaint.  It all makes up for the diaper washing and carrying you around when you had rheumatic fever! 

 Love and kisses,

 Mom”

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In response to one of my emails to the “Hometown Hero” author, S.K. wrote:

 ”Larry, not dynamic? YOU? Are you kidding? What is dynamic to you?. .I love that you are this forever in the moment yet forecasted in the future at the same time -- creative, (not in that artsy fartsy way but down  to earth way and at the same time out of this world way -- but ways people can use and enjoy and improve their lives more efficiently/spiritually )you're  always thinking, caring, inventive, family loving, fun loving, wholesome,  practical genius ... and yet you’re humble and able to speak with and teach the  lay person, the child, to all of us mere mortals. All have this potential in themselves, that inventive, idea part of themselves if they would only  listen...

Perhaps you theme of purpose is inspiring others, living your life to help  other's enjoy their lives more, open to the spirit, not one dimensional,  this leave you open. You’re using that part of the brain many  have not tapped  into.

I see the difference between you and some artist, as your inventions are all  about helping other people, not something to create just for your ego ... but  they are all for others. You’re family fun land you talk about ... that's a beautiful wholesome vision ... one that could put Whidbey island on the map, as  a family destination.

You are about other people Larry, everything you think up and build is for  others. You are others focused.  Seems to me your purpose is to help other's enjoy their lives better, and more efficiently ... And this inspired others at the same time.

Successful? Oh my gosh, look at all you have created … 20 life times for  most. You work your mind hard, you are inspiring for others to not allow  their mind to be lazy. A mind is a terrible thing to waste ... and you are a  model to use the mind and heart together to the very best of your ability.”

 Susan Knickerbocker

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I'm Larry's brother (five years younger). Larry has always been an amazingly creative person and an inspiration to me.
When we were young, he set up a workshop in the basement, and made wooden toys for us younger kids. He also collected the Native American lore on the cards that came in Shredded Wheat boxes, bound them into a book, and inducted us into the "Straight Arrow Club". We practiced tracking, constructing trail signs, made snare traps & weapons, and generally hung out in the woods while Larry attempted to turn us into skillful scouts.
He build an underground camp, with wooden walls and recessed shelves, and somehow talked us into digging a secret hiding space under the floor boards. He built delicate balsa wood and paper model airplanes (which we loved to try to fly by tossing them into the air, much to his dismay). Then, inspired by going to the circus, he began building rides. One very popular one was his merry-go-round teeter-totter, which lasted for several years, and was relatively safe. Others were more exciting and dangerous, like the gondola car, which ran from high up in the maple tree down to the apple tree. Unfortunately, he had to splice ropes together to span the distance. Our neighbor. Ray, probably has a round one-inch diameter scar in the center of his forehead to this day, from his very exciting ride in the gondola car, at the end of which he was briefly "seeing God". A more recent ride of Larry's is a twenty-foot high merry-go-round, made from steel and aluminum tubes that conform to the crystal structure of a diamond (I think it is).
Larry also made himself a chemistry lab in the basement, and concocted many strange and wonderful things, including explosives. We younger kids were filled with awe as he detonated ever more powerful bombs out in the driveway (we lived out in the sticks, at the end of a gravel road in those days). We definitely had unsafe & insane Fourth of July celebrations in those days!
For decades now, Larry has been inventing and refining highly efficient biomass burners, which are capable of burning just about any organic matter, with little or no smoke. He makes these burners out of high-temperature refractory cement, stainless steel, and electronic controls. As kids, we were always building campfires in the woods, so I guess these devices grew from that early fascination with fire. It seems that Larry's passion for fire, and his ability to tune into it, has enabled him to create these amazing burners, despite having no formal engineering training (as far as I know).
Larry's inventiveness also includes making and using very tall and light stilts that have articulated feet;
buildings with shapes based on crystal structures, using ferro-cement and stucco; large parabolas for focusing sound; wind turbines with sails instead of props; handmade tools created for specific projects, such as shaping logs used in house construction; a set of large, lightweight wooden blocks that can be combined endlessly, to create tables, chairs, etc.; and much, much more.
I enjoy getting together with Larry, because he is so upbeat, full of ideas and knowledge, and generally open to possibilities and new ideas, no matter how far out they are (actually, the farther out the better). He is always willing to take the time to help me with repairing my tools, giving advice about building design, exploring the woods, or listening to my troubles and offering sage, brotherly advice.”
Thanks,
Bruce
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“So, Larry...being his sister, I might want to tell a story or two about his childhood which his friends and admirers might not know.
The good news is that the neighbor kids, Larry and his family all survived his creative events. Larry had a chemistry set and the smells and minor explosions emanating from the basement were a regular part of family life. He also loved to create and invent. One time when he was about 10 or 11, I imagine, he created a "sky ride" consisting of an apple box to which he fastened an old bicycle handlebar, and hauled to the top of a tall tree in the yard with the aid of pulleys and ropes. To an admiring audience of neighbor kids, he climbed the tree and rode safely to the ground. Everyone was lined up by then waiting for their turn. The next kid wasn't so lucky. The rope broke halfway down and the box with child plummeted to the ground. I remember the kid sitting in the box with the handle bars slightly imbedded in his forehead and his eyes crossed saying, "I see God!" We informed my mother in the house (with no clue about what was happening in the woods) that Ray was dead. Ray just had a slight concussion, and, as this was before the era of litigation, no one sued.
Larry truly marches to a different drum. I am sure his mind is always cooking up something new. He is very creative and heartfelt. He loves to play and have fun. That's so important in our world these days. Kids love Larry and he loves them. He has always been true to his values even though it sometimes has resulted in hardships in his life. Larry is a good person.”

Blessings to you, Linda

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I've always admired Larry's special creativity—a kind of renaissance person, so to speak—who is comfortable talking about politics, things of the spirit, the latest government conspiracies, and then can go to great lengths talking about innovative architectural forms (with models in hand) at the same time that he is fashioning his latest pair of stilts in his garage. A person of many talents, and also one of vision.
I recall when my wife and first visited Larry and his partner, Gabi, and there was an instant and very real sense of connection—like we were spiritual brothers. Larry has a shining presence, if you just let yourself be there with him without trying to add anything to the experience.”

a friend

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Words to describe Larry

“Energetic       Perpetually youthful      Creative       Out of the box      Independent      Free
One of the great lovers of the world       Future focused      Globally aware
Fun-loving & playful       Intelligent       Deep eye contact      Physical”

How is the community better off for having this person here?
“Larry has spent countless days of his life creating community.  His parties are wonderfully playful.  He has been the driving force behind many community events, alternative fairs, the environmental show at the Greenbank farm, the annual Maxwelton parades, Chochokam and so much more.  He is totally community-oriented.”

What do you think is important that others would like to know?
“Larry designed and built a number of unusual structures.  He designed and built a greenhouse system that ran the still-warm house greywater through in-floor pipes and around a hot tub before disposing of the water.”

What could others learn from this person, what have you learned?
 “I have learned many things from Larry:
• Play is an essential part of everything we do
• We must hold to our values and stand up for what we know is right
• We can stay young as long as we want.
• There is hope for the future: there are countless untapped alternatives waiting for us
• Live every moment of life intensely and fully”


What obstacles or hardships has this person had to overcome that you know of?
“The passing of his amazing father.  Getting divorced twice.”

Do you have any stories or examples that might show how this person is an inspiration, to you?
“Larry set up his rotating swing at my place for one of my parties, and left it there for the next fifteen years because it was getting a lot of use. When Larry and Laila lived in the barn off Keller Road, he had a tripod for climbing, a trapeze in his sawdust room, and a linear trench design for his outdoor squat toilet system. Instead of stairs, they climbed a tree inside the house to get up to their loft bed.  One of his dreams was to build a runner so that their bed could slide out the wall and be under the stars.
Larry had to move one of his buildings off the property on Maxwelton, and I wanted it on my place. We seriously considered a number of ways of transporting it with and without dismantling it, including carrying it by helicopter over to my place.  It ended up being demolished.”

Dean Petrich
“Deano the Clown”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Larry is the most original thinker I have ever known. His designs are thorough, practical, daring and new.
Jerene Kerkvliet was here for a visit last Monday.  She was his 2nd wife. She added that in the 70’s Larry worked very hard with the county to set up the Owner-Builder home code, which benefited so many.  She reminded us also that Larry was active for some time putting pressure on the county to reduce hunting on the island.”

Leonard Good
science teacher-inventor

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

About Larry Dobson:
I first met Larry when we were both working to develop worker-owned cooperatives in Seattle. We were focused on "industrial co-ops" — co-ops that we hoped would serve as models for a more humane and environmentally sensitive way of manufacturing the material needs and wants of modern society, based on worker ownership, and thus, worker control.
Larry was at that time (and still is, I believe) researching and building prototype high-efficiency wood stoves- using both public and private research grants and contracts. He had already installed several large-scale industrial heating systems, and hoped that these high-efficiency wood stoves and furnaces might eventually be manufactured using a worker co-op model. Alas, it did not come to be, but the spirit was there!
Larry's commitment has always been to the most conscientious use of this planets resources, and always with the goal of bettering the human community.
Larry is an inventor (with a genius for both visionary and practical innovation), a social philosopher and activist, a community volunteer, and wonderfully free and loving spirit. Yes, a hero in large and small things. I embrace him as a model and as a dear friend.”

Earl Berg
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hi susan, mmm, larry. Well, larry has a mind unfettered by convention. His wit, wisdom, and sense of humor is a tonic in dark times. He is generous and (world) community-spirited. Larry is a true American character—inventive, egalitarian, and individualistic. Larry grapples with the concept of personal integrity in his daily life and inspires the people who know him. He is an original.”

elliott menashe
a long-time Whidbey resident and environmental consultant
(vvww.greenbeltconsulling.com
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“To try to describe Larry Dobson with words is to do him an injustice. His landscape is much too large to condense into such a small space. But since that's the task at hand, I'll do my best.
Larry is a true renaissance man of the twenty first century: an inventor, engineer, humanist, artist, philosopher, spiritual seeker, etc, etc. To say that Larry charts his own course in life is an understatement. He seems to take great pleasure in going against the grain of convention. I suppose, because he knows that to think outside the box is to open up a universe of possibilities, and Larry utilizes the entire universe.
Larry is constantly inventing and creating, and unfortunately I don't know most of what he's accomplished, but here's what I do know: He has designed and built one of the world's most efficient biomass furnaces, he has developed several building techniques for low cost energy efficient housing in third world countries, developed cutting edge stilts using exotic/high tech materials. (I hope you find out more of what he's done, because it's a long list.)
I am deeply indebted to Larry for tall that he has given me over the years. Whether it's help with solving a technical manufacturing problem, computer illustration, or giving an emergency helping hand, Larry will drop what he's doing and devote himself to solving my problem. Frankly, I don't know anyone else on the planet who would or could do that. Larry seeks to serve his community and the world for the highest good. And he does.
I was recently asked by a Canadian engineer to help design a water heating system for an eco-lodge in Guatemala. This man was a brilliant engineer, who had spent his life as a top-level consultant, designing water systems for developing countries. He also invented and manufactured solar components for use in third world countries. I realized I was out of my league and brought Larry into the mix.  These two were like peas in the same pod. They immediately took to each other and began exchanging designs and ideas. Not long after our meeting, I got an email that stated, "That man Larry is a National Treasure in art as well as Technology, too bad the Nation does not know it!" I think that sums up Larry pretty well.
Susan, please feel free to reword anything you want to make it fit your article. I really am frustrated trying to define Larry. It's beyond my scope as a writer. I hope that between all the people you've contacted, we can piece together something that does him justice. Thank you for doing this, Larry is certainly deserving of our recognition.”

Regards,
Frazer Mann
Island Hottubs
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Larry has more creative juices flowing than anybody I know. And he not only comes up with ideas, he's one of the rare individuals who is fearless about implementing them. In Larry's world it's ok to walk on homemade coffee can stilts, hurtle through space on a rope attached to an experimental swing or spend countless hours working on a prototype sawdust burner that as it turns out is pretty dam efficient. But if the experiment fails, he still has a twinkle in his blue eyes because he's not one to take himself too seriously. He's one of the first people I met when I came to Whidbey 35 years ago and because he's never forgotten how to play is still one of my favorite people to be around.”

Laurie Davenport
Larry's ex-sister-in-law
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“We've known Larry and family since we were kids in Seattle. When Larry was young he had an illness that confined him to bed for a long time and that experience set him apart, he became more thoughtful and philosophical than most of our friends. In the decades he's lived on Whidbey he has impressed us with his parenting. His son Ian has now graduated with an MA in music from the U of W. Ian went to various alternative schools, like Tamanous, where Larry taught and volunteered. Larry is inventive and created a wonderful swing which is hard to describe, but it is built out of steel pipe sections which make struts forming 2 tetrahedron geodesic shapes and the whole thing rotates on bearings from the hub of a car wheel. This swing was at Tamanous School in the 70s and also was at Evergreen School in north Seattle where Len & I both taught. It is now at Larry's place off French Road.
Len says Larry is the most originally creative inventor he's ever known and is an expert at changing and adapting things for different uses. Vern Olsen has hired him to work on their log house, incorporating solar elements, which Larry does with an artistic flair. We hired him to design a water collection system for our yurt—he installed the gutters and a collecting tank & used a windshield from an old car for a roof over the door to the yurt. For years he has been designing sawdust burning stoves and has been working with companies looking for more efficient heating units. He is a regular contributor to Whatnext and involved with the environmental movement. He's on our list of experts to give workshops at Tilth.
You've probably seen Larry at parades where he often plays Uncle Sam, looming above on 7 foot stilts—he has taught the art of stiltwalking to many children over the years. He has a flair for impersonating Merlin at a medieval banquet or costume party.
I've also been impressed with what a good son Larry is to his mother Rose, who is now living in the Adult Family Home on East Harbor Road.
My friend Rick Anex, who used to live on Whidbey but now lives in New Caledonia wrote:
‘I have no idea what a Hometown Hero is, but whatever, Larry should be it. He’s amazing and has always been an inspiration to me.  We need lots more people like him on the planet!’”
Sincerely,
Linda Good
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I got into stilting 4 years ago and did a web search on how to make stilts and found a web site that had great engineering drawings that were simple and easy to follow.  A week later, after finishing them I go to a random drum circle and meet Larry for the fist time. After talking with him about other stuff I find out he does stilting and I tell him I found this killer web sight, he then tells me it was his, very cool. I searched the world wide web to find the info I could have gotten just by visiting someone who lives just 3 miles from my house.
I am now a part time professional stilt walker for www. purecirkus.com I work with several other stilters and most are in there early 20's. I'm the really old guy in the group at 38, Larry is 10 plus years my senior! And he wears the tallest stills I have seen in person. Everyone in Pure is on less than 3 foot stills and Larry's stilts are about 5 feet tall that's a long way to fall.
I also admire Larry for his genius, I have worked with many engineers in the pass but this guy is truly a super genius. Not only can he design and make pretty pictures he can build them. All though he is older than me he is able to play like a five year old with out fear of injury, failure or looking like a foul, but with respect and wisdom of an old sage. When you watch him "work" with kids he treats them like little grown ups and I think many of the kids don't think of him as and old man but as one of the big kids.  A lot of the islanders know me from Bayview Farmers Market as the guy who does balloons.”

MadMat
A mad man makes his own reallity.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Re: Larry:
Just because he became an adult doesn't mean that he ever actually grew up. He didn't. He still has the curiosity and enthusiasm exhibited by happy healthy children. He is very intelligent, and has used that intelligence both to invent things useful to the world in general (and, incidentally, indulge his pyromania) and to make life more fun.
From early in the 1970s I remember attending solstice and equinox gatherings at Spring Valley Farm where Larry had set up his "giant swing." If you haven't seen it, its kind of hard to explain. Back then the shape was, as Larry explained, a "rhombic dodecahedron." Think of it as a giant 3 dimensional diamond shape, with triangles stuck on the sides. The whole thing stands up on one point and is held in place with guy wires. It rotates on that point. Hanging from the triangles are ropes holding swings of various sorts - from tires to inner tubes to knotted rope to gunny sacks. People sit in or hang onto these arrangements while the swing is pushed. Its slow at the base, but out there on the points it is often enough to have the individual swings horizontal. Quite the ride.
At one point Larry actually set up the swing in the grass field that used to exist next to the Star Store. My, but the town elders were in a tizzy.
Later in the 1970s, Larry lived in a big old barn off Keller Road. Rather than anything as prosaic as steps leading up to the sleeping loft, Larry had strategically placed bits of driftwood. Along the roof beam were ropes. The wood chip storage shed (his experimental stove, Grendle, burned wood chips) was set up as a gym. There was a cable and pulley system from the top window out to the top of an alder tree.
We had terrible trouble one year finding a venue for Tamanhous school, having checked all the usual places and many unusual ones. No luck anywhere. So Larry offered to build a pole-and-plastic temporary school on his property. It was actually a warm and comfortable space, quite light with double plastic walls and quite warm with a woodchip burning stove beneath the plywood floor. The kids spent a lot of time in the barn as well, climbing up the driftwood and swinging from the ropes along the roofbeam. I must admit to being seriously worried at seeing kids sailing along the cable hanging onto the pulley between the top of the barn and the alder. He had such gadgets as a "whisper-ma-phone" - two halves of a giant ferro-cement eggshell, placed quite far apart and set so that if you whispered into one half, someone could hear clearly in the other. Kids took turns putting buckets of wood chips down the chute to feed "Grendle," the stove, and they worked out on the gym equipment. It was a great arrangement and the kids were having an awful lot of fun while learning some pretty sophisticated concepts in physics.
Unfortunately, it was also illegal, and someone turned Larry in. The sheriffs actually came and hauled him off to jail for the crime of hosting a school. All the Tamanhous parents loved him for it.
What makes Larry such an incredibly good teacher and such fun to be around, is that he is wildly enthusiastic about his subject(s) and communicates that enthusiasm to those around him. The fundamentals of physics are learned in the context of "how high can you jump?", "how far can you soar?", "what happens when you ride a unicycle backwards?" and other earth-shattering questions. Several generations of kids on south Whidbey have developed a love of science and a keen sense for questioning what appears obvious – along with a great sense of fun and love of gymnastic sports such as trampoline tumbling and stilt walking.
Later in the 1970s, Larry lived in a big old barn off Keller Road. Rather than anything as prosaic as steps leading up to the sleeping loft, Larry had strategically placed bits of driftwood. Along the roof beam were ropes. The wood chip storage shed (his experimental stove, Grendle, burned wood chips) was set up as a gym. There was a cable and pulley system from the top window out to the top of an alder tree.
We had terrible trouble one year finding a venue for Tamanhous school, having checked all the usual places and many unusual ones. No luck anywhere. So Larry offered to build a pole-and-plastic temporary school on his property. It was actually a warm and comfortable space, quite light with double plastic walls and quite warm with a woodchip burning stove beneath the plywood floor. The kids spent a lot of time in the barn as well, climbing up the driftwood and swinging from the ropes along the roofbeam. I must admit to being seriously worried at seeing kids sailing along the cable hanging onto the pulley between the top of the barn and the alder. He had such gadgets as a "whisper-ma-phone" - two halves of a giant ferro-cement eggshell, placed quite far apart and set so that if you whispered into one half, someone could hear clearly in the other. Kids took turns putting buckets of wood chips down the chute to feed "Grendle," the stove, and they worked out on the gym equipment. It was a great arrangement and the kids were having an awful lot of fun while learning some pretty sophisticated concepts in physics.
Unfortunately, it was also illegal, and someone turned Larry in. The sheriffs actually came and hauled him off to jail for the crime of hosting a school. All the Tamanhous parents loved him for it.
What makes Larry such an incredibly good teacher and such fun to be around, is that he is wildly enthusiastic about his subject(s) and communicates that enthusiasm to those around him. The fundamentals of physics are learned in the context of "how high can you jump?", "how far can you soar?", "what happens when you ride a unicycle backwards?" and other earth-shattering questions. Several generations of kids on south Whidbey have developed a love of science”

Marianne Edain
WEAN, Tilth & community volunteer
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Martha and I have shred our many experiences with Larry.  He is one of a kind.  I’m sure many others have also added their many pleasant experiences with you about Larry.
We met Larry at a "hippie" gathering at Deer Lake around 35 years ago. He was about the same age as he is today.
Not long after that he started using his enormous creativity to renovate our old log house. If he needed a tool, he invented and built it. If there was no known way to solve a problem, give him a day or two and he'd come up with one. During this time he lived on our property in a snug visqueen tent under the arms of a large hemlock tree. Later, when we needed our high living room ceiling repaired, he didn't use a ladder. He just climbed on his stilts and plastered away.
Yes. Larry is a genius, but that's secondary to his extraordinary knack of bringing out the child in all of us. And we ALL reap the rewards of his presence.”

Vern and Martha Olsen
Greenbank Farm
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Dearest Susan, Whew, such crazy time. How wonderful that you have a chance to explore the wild mind of Larry Dobson.
Larry's social conscience and his Leonardo da Vinci inventiveness are traits that make him unique to us. He doesn't exactly have his feet on the ground but he knows how to make dreams work — hence he is a skilled stilt walker and builder of windmills that tilt and produce energy. He is better known for efficient heat producing stoves.
We first became aware of him through the Owner Builder amendment campaign in the early 80s. He'd begun an alternative school using a geodesic dome for a classroom. He is still involved in alternative education of young people.
We got to know his inspiring parents. Rose and Jerry Dobson, who were organic gardeners, founders of the farmers' market on south Whidbey and among the founders of South Whidbey Tilth.”

Prescott
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Hello Susan:
I find it so interesting that you chose Larry, as he's out of the normal Hometown Hero "do-gooder" mold.
I applaud you for this choice. Often people who create permanent change or a legacy are those who are controversial - they challenge the normal mindset, status quo, and they take risks. Examples that immediately come to mind are Martin Luther King, Margaret Sanger, George Fox. Not that I am necessarily comparing Larry to these eminent personalities, but rather that Larry follows in this estimable tradition.
In answer to your questions below, Larry is a person who has followed his leadings to think and create "outside the box." He is an enormously creative person who shares this gift willingly and generously with others. He questions the way things are and imagines how they might be different. Then he proceeds to make these new solutions a reality.
For me, Larry is a person who makes me believe that all things are possible.
Larry is a person who spreads happiness. His charm and genuine warmth are infectious and it's always fun to be around him. He's spent much time entertaining and inspiring children - or adults to find again the joy of childhood in life. This is evident in his Stiltman persona (when I had my cobbler's shop in the 1970s, I once made huge red tennis shoes for the stilts), in the famous geometric swing he designed, built, and shared with several generations of kids, including mine, and in his co-founding and support of Tamanhous School, which was a rousing success if one considers the careers of its graduates who are among the ranks of the very successful in fields such as computer science, art, and literature.
I'd say that the risks that Larry has taken include financial security and in living in a state of uncertainty, pushing the edges of appropriate technology. His education as a chemist could have given him a very comfortable living, but he chose to help remake society instead and has had a lasting impact on so many people in living with intention, passion, and fun.”

Best, Sue Ellen
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Larry Dobson is one of my very favorite adults. Larry has been, and remains, a favorite adult because of his heart (and there's a big one in there) Larry is still a kid. Larry and his son Ian used to live in a geodesic contraption of a barn where along with a homemade sawdust burning stove named “Grendell”, there was a swamp just outside the door that was full of Dinosaurs and adventures. The first time I ever went to the “Barn” I was quite young and noticed first thing that there was a small narrow loft in the main room and that there was a drum set up there. I remember thinking, "who would ever put a drum set on such a small and dangerous looking loft?" Well that answer was clear.  Larry taught us kids a lot about responsibility and fun. His method of doing this was to (most naturally) invent really dangerous and fun toys. Rope swings, slides, stilts, and the list goes on.  The most famous of these wonderful inventions is an enormous geodesic swing that instead of swinging back and fourth swings around in circles. The rider sits in a harness and flies ‘round and ‘round like a bird as people below push with all their might. The personal responsibility comes in because of you’re not heads up and wander too close when the swing is in action you’re liable to get crashed in the head by the feet of one of the riders as they come flying by. And it happens too. Larry has good karma though, and while tears have occasionally been shed, the swing to this day remains everybody's friend. Much like Larry himself. It has been an honor to count him as one of my friends for most all of my life. Knowing Larry helps to keep a person feeling young and continuously looking round the corner for the wonder of it all. The wonder of this gigantic operation of being alive, Thank you Larry. Just for being. And thanks also for keeping a drum set in your loft at all times.”
Cheers,
Timothy
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Other Notoriety