Larry W. Garner, a municipal planner and dedicated civil servant who left an indelible mark on Indiana County’s largest municipality, died Saturday in Colorado after losing his battle with cancer.
He was 66.
Garner spent 41 years working for municipal governments, both in Indiana County and elsewhere, but he probably will be best remembered for his time as White Township manager, a position he had held from October 1987 until his retirement in January 2013.
Although Garner was instrumental in the acquisition of what’s now the S&T Bank Arena and the development of the White Township Recreation Complex and IUP’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex, colleagues said one of his biggest achievements was setting the fiscal policy that allowed the township to continue to forgo collection of a real estate tax.
“When he prepared a budget, there wasn’t much that you could question,” said Robert Overdorff, chairman of the township supervisors.
Garner graduated from Mercer High School in 1965 and went on to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a degree in geography.
Following graduation, he joined the U.S. Army and served as a drill sergeant. He was honorably discharged in 1971, and returned to IUP, where he began pursuing a master’s degree in planning.
In 1972, while continuing his studies, he took a job as the assistant director at the Indiana County planning office. He left in 1976 for a position in Watertown, N.Y., but returned to the planning office in 1978 as its director.
Roughly four years later, Garner stepped down to manage Blairsville Borough and its water authority. But White Township lured him away in 1987, in part because it was able to offer a bigger challenge due to the growth it was experiencing, Overdorff said.
Supervisor Gail McCaulley said Garner was highly competent and well-respected by his peers throughout the state.
She also said one his other major accomplishments was assembling a cohesive and dedicated township staff.
That staff includes the current township manager, Milt Lady, whom Garner hired in 1997 mostly to work on the recreation complex project.
“He was a strong mentor to me,” Lady said.
Lady said that among the many things Garner instilled in him was the importance of serving township residents. He said that under Garner’s leadership, phone calls from residents were returned, time was made to talk to those who had problems and complaints addressed.
And things got built — including the Kovalchick Center.
Tom Borellis, the university’s chief planner, said the project was really the first time the township and the university had to partner on a large undertaking. He said Garner was instrumental to the building’s opening.
He also said that while Garner and the university didn’t always see eye to eye, he would try to talk out their differences.
And, Borellis said, it was always clear what Garner’s true aim was — to improve the region.
Garner is survived by his wife, Patty; sons Michael and his wife, Lindsay, and David and his wife, Maggie; and two grandsons. Information on funeral arrangements was unavailable by press time this morning.