Laurence J. Higdon

February 02, 2013|By JANET HEIM |
  • Larry and Nancy Higdon pose for this picture taken on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2005.
Submitted photo

Laurence “Larry” Higdon was a man of family and faith, known for opening his home to visiting missionaries and anyone in need of a meal or a place to stay.

Since the 1990s, when Larry and his wife, Nancy, started keeping a guest book, they have had more than 300 entries in their book. There were many more visitors before they started keeping track.

Their modest Cape Cod home in the Cearfoss area often was filled to the brim with overnight visitors or dinner guests, a mix of traveling missionaries, who had served in places such as Africa, Australia, Cameroon, England and Portugal, and others passing through.

“We always thought it was big because it held a lot of people,” daughter Dorothy Selders of Thurmont, Md., said of their family home.

Because the dining room wasn’t big enough, three large folding tables often were kept at the ready for dining in the basement, with Nancy’s expansive sewing table serving as the buffet table.

Dorothy remembers sleeping on a cot in her parents’ bedroom because “my room was filled with people,” she said.

Her father’s “passion for helping the missionaries” carried over into the lives of his family.

“It just didn’t occur to me — whatever you can do for someone, you just do it,” Dorothy said. “It was surprising to realize not everyone was like that.”

One missionary couple, who were frequent guests at the family’s home, wrote that Hagerstown had become a real home away from home for them. They said Larry and Nancy had a way of making them feel like family.

“It was interesting to learn stories of the mission field,” Nancy said. “I think it was good for the children.”

Nancy recalls once feeding 30 to 40 people when two traveling singing families — one with 10 children and the other with seven — needed a meal.

Larry was on the board of the Christian Service Brigade at Camp Hemlock in West Virginia. Nancy spent most of the summer for 20 years as camp nurse and cook and their two children were with her many of those years, with Larry joining them on weekends to help with maintenance.

Dorothy recently learned that when Larry’s mother died years ago, while Dorothy was away at college, memorial contributions were requested instead of flowers. The money was sent in $100 increments to some missionaries to be used to do something special with their families.

“They got letters telling how thankful they were,” Dorothy said.

Dorothy said she and her brother, Larry A. Higdon of Hagerstown, grew up meeting so many people from all over the world that their home was fondly referred to as the “Higdon Hilton” or “Higdon Hotel.”

“It gave me an awareness of the world outside of my little life,” Dorothy said. “It changes your perspective on everything.”

She said her father served in the U.S. Navy and had traveled to Japan and other places as a result, but other than an anniversary cruise to the Bahamas and two trips out West with Nancy, he had not traveled extensively.

Larry always was puttering, working on house projects or taking care of the cars. Dorothy said she learned to fix a lot of things by tagging along with her father, skills that have served her well as an adult.

Before she was allowed to get her driver’s license, she had to demonstrate that she could change a tire. She also remembers that her father wasn’t one to rush out and buy a replacement item or part if something could be fixed.

“It was people, not the stuff,” Dorothy said.

“I think of how much of his passion was in people, not possessions. ... The family times — birthdays and holidays are big. The food and fellowship is so much more important than the gifts. There was lots of laughter around family meals,” said daughter-in-law Becky Higdon of Hagerstown.

Birthday meals were selected by the family member whose birthday it was.

“It was never hot dogs. It was steak or shrimp,” Becky said.

Through the years, Larry proved to be a good listener and sounding board for his children. Even the grandchildren sensed the importance of those conversations.

“We knew when it was time to leave the room,” said granddaughter Ella Higdon of Hagerstown.

Laurence James,  called “Jimmy” by his family, was an only child. There was a big difference in the age of his mothers and her three younger sisters, who were like “big sisters” to Larry.

Both Larry and Nancy were born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Prince George’s County in Maryland, where they attended the same junior high and high school, graduating in 1952.

They met at a monthly gathering of several local church youth groups and dated for a bit in high school, until Larry went into the Navy and Nancy headed to nursing school.

Nancy said it was common interests, especially their shared faith, that drew them together.

“I just appreciated the qualities he had and the stands he took,” Nancy said. “I knew he was dependable.”

They married in 1955, while he still was in the service. Their daughter and son were born while they lived in Prince George’s County, but with the county in transition, wanted to make a move.

They were visiting friends in Hagerstown and passed a home with a “For Sale” sign and knocked on the door for a peek. The family was hosting a wedding and suggested they come back later.

It was meant to be, and the Higdons moved to Hagerstown in 1974 to the home where the couple still lived. Larry commuted for 1 1/2 years to his job with Safeway, then worked at Maugansville Elevator. He then did custodial work for Heritage Academy before his jobs taking care of the boilers and doing maintenance for Western Maryland Hospital Center and Potomac Center.

Larry retired at age 62.

There also was a silly side, the side that challenged people to pat their heads while rubbing their bellies or tried to get them to sing “I’m a Little Teapot” while doing the motions.

Dorothy said she had a running joke with her father, who would ask her whether she had stood on her head that day. 

“He could wiggle his ears well,” Ella said.

The Higdon family joined Emmanuel Baptist Temple in Hagerstown in 1977 after searching for a church that would meet the needs of their children, Nancy said.

“He did a lot of ministry right through this house,” Becky said.

Larry relished time with his seven grandchildren, who ranged in age from almost 23 to 8, whether taking them on field trips, a nature walk or sharing family history.

“He was an encourager,” Becky said.

Twenty years ago, Larry was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a disorder of the bone marrow in which the marrow is replaced by scar tissue. He tired easily and had to get blood transfusions, which increased in frequency as time went on.

Still, Larry went on daily walks with Nancy and remained active as long as he could. Christmas seemed to give Larry an extra spark.

“I think this last Christmas, when everybody was here, whether he felt like it or not, he put a little more oomph into it,” said Nancy, who added he wanted to hold her hand more, as if he could sense what was coming.

On top of all of his other symptoms, Larry developed pneumonia and his lungs wouldn’t heal.

“No matter how bad he felt, he always asked how you were doing,” Dorothy said. “We’d have liked to have kept him, but he was ready to go.”

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Laurence J. Higdon, who died Jan. 15 at the age of 79. His obituary was published in the Jan. 16 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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