Irene Louise Larson, the first female police officer in Arlington Heights, will be remembered Saturday with a church service and luncheon. Larson, 67, died on Feb. 7 after a battle with cancer.
Larson was born and raised in Arlington Heights and graduated from Arlington High School in 1964.
"She always liked to help people," said her sister Linda Nitch.
That's why her family wasn't surprised when she was sworn in as an Arlington Heights police officer in October 1972, the first woman on the force.
"She never really complained; she just did what she had to do," Nitch said.
That doesn't mean it was easy, though.
"There was resistance. It was a challenge at the time," said Arlington Heights police Sgt. Stephanie Mack, who was hired in 1989 and became the first female sergeant with the department.
Larson told Mack about times when she would spend a whole day in her squad car without another officer talking to her and eating her lunch alone, among other difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated profession.
"I think it was difficult for her, but she kept her head up," said her sister Mary Thomas. "It was a man's job. She had to keep her guard up until they got to know her. But then they did and they loved her."
In the early 1970s there were more women going into law enforcement, but Mack said many of them didn't last more than a few years.
"(Larson) had a perseverance, a stubbornness about her," Mack said. "She was determined to make it her career and she did. It's not just that she was the first, but that she stayed, that's noteworthy."
Larson retired in 1994 to raise her children, whom Mack called "the light of her life."
She kept in touch with her fellow retired police officers and was the only woman at their monthly lunches.
Larson had a long family history in Arlington Heights. Her father, Pete Craig, owned Craig Construction, which built homes and buildings in the village.
Outside of work, Larson was artistic and enjoyed stained glass. reupholstering and other crafts, Nitch said. She was also involved in Bible study groups at Covenant Church in Schaumburg.
"She had the biggest heart. She was a mentor on the job, but also a friend. She welcomed me into her home like a family member," Mack said. "It is a bond I will never forget."
Larson beat breast cancer a few years ago, but in recent months she learned the cancer was back and had spread throughout her body.
While she was in hospice care, her family was moved by how many current and former police officers came regularly to visit.
"I knew a lot about my sister, but I had no idea about how many lives she touched," Thomas said. "Visitors just kept coming. It was really something to see."
One even came in with a guitar to serenade her, she said.
A celebration of Larson's life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Covenant Church of Schaumburg, 301 N. Meacham Road. A luncheon will follow at the church.