You don't have to be a longtime resident to the Coachella Valley to know the name Corky Larson. Those of us, who have worked with Corky, know her for her generous commitment of time to the Coachella Valley. For others, they become familiar with the Larson name as they set foot in the Larson Justice Center for jury duty, or worse!
Growing up in the much cooler Santa Monica area of Los Angeles, one of Corky's earliest decisions was what field to pursue in college. Corky's desire was to pursue law. In recalling that time period, Corky said, "who would go to a woman lawyer?" Recognizing that women such as Sandra Day O'Connor were entering that field of study to become lawyers, Corky's explanation of these strong female leaders is that they were "exceptional." Instead, Corky chose the field of education and obtained her bachelor's degree from UCLA. Her dream of becoming a lawyer would later be realized in 1990 when Corky received her JD and passed the California State Bar.
Corky first came to the Coachella Valley in 1954 when she and her husband, Keene, purchased land in the east Coachella Valley. Farming grapes became the family business. It was while the family worked their farm that the memorable grape boycott began. Keene encouraged Corky to go into the public arena and voice the growers' perspective. Corky says, "Keene was so busy in the fields, there was no way he could get away." It was also during this time when Corky was asked to sit on the Personnel Commission in Palm Springs. This Commission served as the spring board that led to her run and election to the Palm Springs Unified School Board. Corky contributes her service on the school board to the fact that, "you have children, that's what you do." Corky served three four-year terms on the school board.
Many of us became familiar with Corky during her 12 years on the County of Riverside Board of Supervisors. Numerous projects can be traced to Larson during her tenure as a Board Member. Corky recollects the lack of medical services for lower income residents in the Coachella Valley when she came into office. Corky recalls the story of a farm worker who was only able to seek medical care if she made her way into Riverside. Larson was instrumental in shifting the County's focus to better encompass the Coachella Valley. Medical services are much improved due to these efforts.
Another project in which Corky was a driving factor is the creation of the Regional Access Project (RAP) Foundation. Under a unique funding mechanism between the City of Palm Desert and Riverside County, RAP addresses the unmet needs in health, mental health and juvenile intervention for residents of eastern Riverside County through grants and technical assistance to tax exempt agencies and organizational service providers.
Of course having the County Courthouse in Indio named after Larson was nothing but an "honor," according to Corky. Corky was very instrumental in the expansion of the County Courthouse in Indio while supporting the building of another County Courthouse in Temecula. It was Corky's tenacity that would push for equal expansion and building improvements in the Coachella Valley.
From 1982 until 1994, as County Supervisor of the 4th District, Corky served on the CVAG Executive Committee and was a member of CVAG's General Assembly. Larson was elected CVAG Chair in June of 1988. Jim Sullivan, CVAG employee hired by Corky, states, "Corky Larson is a leader in developing innovative approaches to conservation. As County Supervisor, Corky completed the first regional plan for conservation of an endangered species, the 1986 Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard Habitat Conservation Plan." Upon the announcement of then, Executive Director, Lester Cleveland, Corky threw her hat into the ring of candidates seeking the position and was hired in 1995.
As CVAG Executive Director, Corky guided the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, managed the Transportation Program, worked closely with local elected officials to seek voter approval on the extension of Measure A, assisted the western portion of the County in the drafting of their Habitat Plan, steered the creation of the Valleywide Animal Campus in Thousand Palms, and worked closely with many agencies for CVAG.
Among the current CVAG staff, seven were staff members under Larson's leadership, while our current Executive Director was actually hired by Corky in a different capacity several years ago! Many of us can attribute a number of lessons learned from Corky. "Corky's administrative style was different than I was used to. Whatever problem we faced, I was certain Corky's personality would overcome it," says Allyn Waggle, Deputy Executive Director, also hired by Larson.
After 8 years, Corky left CVAG and in fine shape! Next on her agenda: run for the Board of Directors for the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD). Corky not only won her first CVWD election but three total elections, and after having served nearly 12 years, Corky plans on retiring...for now! After over 50 years of service to her community, this will be a much deserved break!