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Lifetime volunteer started as a teenager

By Lisa Ridder

Rod McLarnan of Moorhead has dedicated almost his entire life to community service, and his list of volunteer experiences is lengthy and diverse. One of these experiences has lasted more than 20 years—The Salvation Army in Fargo.

Rod McLarnan of Moorhead spent a lifetime of volunteering, including 25 years with the American Red Cross. Contributed photo

“I have always been involved in the community,” Rod said. “One of my very first volunteer experiences was at age 14 when I joined the Moorhead Junior High Crossing Patrol. My volunteer experience with the Salvation Army came later in life.”

Rod’s first connections to the Salvation Army came through a family business, which was located not far from the Salvation Army building.

“I long felt a connection to the people the Army served,” he said. “My parents owned a tavern/restaurant in downtown Fargo, in the 1940s-1950s. It was a place where working people gathered to eat, drink beer and play cards. Sometimes my father would ask me to drive a customer home. And at the Army, I could see the people they served needed help. Nobody was turned away.”

Rod’s first personal introductions to the Salvation Army and the work they do came about 30 years ago and was through his late friend, Morrie Callahan.

“Morrie was on the Advisory Board and he invited me to the Salvation Army building in Fargo to learn about their programs,” said Rod. “I was impressed by all the services. I was asked to become a member of the advisor board and I agreed. So many people need help, due to job loss, health problems and family issues. The Army provides meals every day, shelter, clothing, companionship and support,”

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an Evangelical part of the Universal Christian Church. According to its web page (, its message is based on the Bible and its ministry is “motivated by the love of God,” its mission is to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

The core values of the Salvation Army are listed as “passion, compassion, bravery, uplifting spirit and trustworthiness.” Originally a religious effort, it has expanded to include many social services, disaster relief, adult rehabilitation, elderly services, community care and combating human trafficking. While still evangelic, it is now more of a total ministry for the total person.

Chuck Chadwick of Fargo shared Rod’s commitment to volunteer and carry out the work of the Salvation Army.

“It’s been a while since I have volunteered with the Salvation Army, but I recall Rod being a decent, upright and honorable person,” said Chuck. “He was a God fearing man who wanted to make life better for mankind, especially for those who needed a helping hand. By his involvement in the Salvation Army, he demonstrated his Christian faith in helping those in need. It was my honor to serve with and learn from Rod.”

Most of us are familiar with the holiday bell ringers, most of whom are volunteers. Volunteers who brave all kinds of weather greeting people and hoping they will help fill the red kettle with monetary donations. Rod often volunteered to ring the bell either alone or with friends.

And Rod didn’t just serve on the board and volunteer as a bell ringer.

“I often volunteered to help serve the noon meal. I would arrive at 11:45 a.m. and there would already be a long line of people waiting for the meal to be served,” he said. “It was an immediate demonstration of the need in our community. I often invited friends to come with me and it was interesting to see their reaction, their recognition of the importance of what the Army does; and that often led to volunteer support or financial support. The work done by the Army in times of floods, fire or other disasters is well known, and I was proud to be a part of the organization.”

Rod also helped out during the 1997 flood, assisting those in need.

Rod McLarnan (right) and his fellow Salvation Army volunteer and friend, the late Morrie Callahan (left). The two were ringing bells at a Fargo-Moorhead grocery store. Contributed photo

Rod’s efforts and dedication did not go unnoticed in the community. In 2014, Rod retired as the Salvation Army Advisory Board Chairman. Rod served in that position for 20 years. At that time, then Fargo Mayor, Dennis Walaker, by a proclamation declaring Feb. 27, 2014, as Rod McLarnan Day in Fargo. Rod continued to be an active member of the Advisory Board until the COVID-19 Pandemic. “I do keep in touch with Major O’Neil by phone and occasionally in person, socially distanced,” said Rod.

In 2020, Rod was one of several area seniors to be nominated as a candidate for the Senior of the Year Award. Grant Richardson, Senior Executive- Development & Community Relations of Bethany, has been active with the program since its inception in 2010.

“It’s very gratifying to be able to honor these special people,” said Grant. “I remark every year that I have a lot of work to do to catch up with the impact our nominees have had on the community,” he said.

While the Salvation Army is Rod’s longest volunteer experience, he has been a part of a number of local organizations. If one were to look at a directory of local organizations, it’s likely Rod could say he has volunteered at many of them. His commitment to serving others has taken him out of state and to other countries as well.

“There is so much need for volunteering. It is important. We have an obligation to each other. And we each may need help some day, or know someone who does. Being part of a community means taking care of each other,” said Rod. “There is a sense of accomplishment. One learns humility from helping others. Each interaction is a chance to learn something about someone else, and sometimes about yourself.”

Rod has a clear understanding of how his experiences growing up, career choice, relationship with family and friends, his love of travel, desire to serve and sense of adventure are all interconnected.

“I was born in my grandparents’ home in Moorhead,” Rod said. “My family moved a lot during the Depression years. My parents never owned a home. After my birth we lived with my maternal grandparents through my first grade year. After that, we moved almost yearly and until eighth grade. I attended a different school every year,” said Rod. “We lived in Minneapolis, Jamestown and Nortonville, N.D. (where Peggy Lee lived, and I knew her then), back to Minneapolis, then Moorhead, Fargo and Kansas City, Missouri. We moved either to stay with family or where my father found a job. My parents and my two brothers lived in Moorhead when I was in the eighth and ninth grade. They were then moving to Detroit and I stayed in Moorhead with my grandparents to stay in school in Moorhead. I completed the tenth and eleventh grade in Moorhead.” Between the credits Rod had completed by the end of his junior year and a summer school class in 1944, he was able to graduate early.

Rod’s commitment to service carried on when he joined the military.

“I enlisted in the Navy in fall of 1944,” he said. “I became a radio operator on Navy patrol planes. After training, I was stationed at Guantanamo Bay for about six months. We patrolled the Caribbean looking for German submarines. I was at Guantanamo Bay when the war ended.” Rod served two years in the Navy.

Rod attended the University of Minnesota and the St. Paul College of Law. After law school, Rod worked for a Minneapolis law firm for two years. “I moved back to Moorhead in 1958 and have been here ever since,” he said. “I had a 50 year career as a lawyer in Moorhead,” he said. “I handled primarily personal injury cases, most often representing the defendant. I met many interesting people and I loved being a lawyer.”

Rod is extremely proud of his family. “I had two brothers, both deceased. We were close to uncles, aunts and cousins,” said Rod. “I am divorced, have five adult children, 14 grandkids and nine great-grandchildren.”

Rod loves adventure. Some of his favorite activities include: traveling, camping, sailing, golf, tennis and downhill skiing.

“I traveled to many places in the world sailing,” said Rod. “Around 1980, I learned of Donald M. Street Jr., a famous sailor primarily in the Caribbean, and wrote to him. That started a 25 year friendship. I sailed many times on his wooden sailboat named the Lolaire, which was built in 1905. In 1983, I was with him sailing into the harbor at Grenada as the first civilian boat to land there following the action by the US Navy during the Reagan Administration. I sailed across the Atlantic with him and on one trip that ended with us sailing up the Thames River, sail only, no motor.”

“I also took hiking trips to Switzerland, Nepal, Wyoming and Montana,” Rod said. “A favorite travel destination was Nepal in 1985 with my friends Oliver and Jack, whom I had known since junior high. We planned a 21 day trek in the Himalayas and reached 17,800 feet. The planning and anticipation for that trip with my two close friends make that the travel highlight for me.”

“I think my passion for travel, for volunteering and maintaining friendships all are connected in some way to all the moves my family made, all the schools I attended, as those experiences contributed to my need to connect with people,” Rod said. “I realize I thrive on the connection with people, with the human interchange, the small moments of enthusiasm, the sharing of hardship, compassion, empathy and the excitement that life brings.”

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