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Larry Thurow, and his wife, Cathy
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WIU Alumnus Finds Retirement Career Guiding Florida State Parks

March 1, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – When Western Illinois University alumnus Larry Thurow, and his wife, Cathy, began looking for a place to escape Midwest winters, they found a comfortable spot for their RV in Florida's state park system.

In exchange for a camping spot in Key Largo, Larry and Cathy each volunteered 20 hours per week as Resource Management volunteers for the Florida state park system. While serving in that volunteer post, Larry happened upon a job opening for assistant park manager, handling four state parks, including Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park.

After applying, interviewing and accepting the position, Larry, a 1977 alumnus with a degree in agriculture – applied science teacher education, and Cathy moved to the caretaker's home on Lingumvitae Key to oversee day-to-day operations. The park is a 280-acre private island, made up of mostly untouched native, tropical trees and plants.

"After I retired, I had no interest in going back to work - but living on a tropical island…we just couldn't pass that up," said Larry.

During the time Larry and Cathy were volunteers in Florida, they learned to do a lot of tree, plant and fish identification work. The island they now call home has been known to have the Native American crocodile found on a hiking trail.

Lignumvitae Key is also home to the historic William J. Matheson House, originally constructed in 1925 by the Miami chemist as a getaway for his family and friends. The house is open for tours Thursdays-Mondays.

The state park island is only accessible by boat or kayak, so Larry must commute the mainland office by boat. There he oversees four park rangers and 10,000 acres of open water, which contains critically-sensitive sea grasses for manatees. The section of Florida coastline also contains numerous historical sites, such as those containing pirate history and shipwrecks.

After graduating from WIU, Larry served for three years as a high school agriculture teacher, before working in business for about nine years. He began teaching agriculture at John Wood Community College in 1989, then worked at the University of Illinois, before moving on to teach at Parkland Community College for 20 years.

While attending WIU, Larry was a member of the Alpha Gamma Rho (AGR) fraternity.

"WIU prepared me by teaching a lot of leadership skills, and, a lot of teaching skills through classroom teaching," he said.

In addition to working at state parks in Florida, the couple have volunteered in state parks in Washington state, where one of their children lives.

For more information about WIU's School of Agriculture, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing