The Way We Were: The Larson Sisters

The Way We Were: The Larson Sisters
Sisters Iva Larson and Sue Jordan

Sue Jordan of Riverside joked that she and the movie, “Gone with The Wind,” came out the same year – 1939. Although she was raised in Riverside, Sue was born in Miami. “My mother was a ‘Conch’ (born in Key West, Florida), and she had gone down to visit her family while Daddy was in the South Pacific on the Navy Ship, USS Arizona,” said Sue, whose parents, Alberta Audrey “Bert” Elwood and Robert Frank “Bob” Larson, met in Jacksonville.   

“Mama and her sister, Aunt Dot, had moved to Miami and then to Jacksonville in the late 1930s. There were no jobs in Key West, and they needed to find work.” Sue’s mother found a job as a sales clerk at the Rexall Drug Store on the corner of Main and Forsyth Streets and found a handsome sailor named Larson at a dancehall across from the Florida Theatre in downtown Jacksonville.

Ivan and Sue Griffin Elwood
Ivan and Sue Griffin Elwood

“Daddy was transferred back to Jacksonville in November of 1941, just three weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and killed so many [1,177 sailors and Marines] aboard the USS Arizona,” said Sue, noting that he always marveled at that timing, and considered himself a lucky man.

A few years later, when her mother went to St. Luke’s Hospital in Jacksonville and brought home a new baby sister named Iva, 4-year-old Sue asked her parents if they could please take that baby back and replace it with one that didn’t cry. They insisted on keeping Iva.

Both Sue Jordan and her sister, Iva Larson, were named after Key West Conchs – their maternal grandparents, Sue Griffin Elwood and Ivan Elwood, who was police chief in Key West for 30 years.

After leaving the Navy, Bob Larson worked briefly as a manager at Sears, Roebuck and then pursued his true calling of interior design, opening Larson’s Interiors on Lomax Street in 5 Points. In addition to raising their two daughters, Bert Larson became an interior decorator and worked with her husband at Larson’s Interiors, which became quite popular with homeowners in South Florida as well as throughout Jacksonville. 

The Larson Family, 1970s: Bert, Iva, Bob and Sue
The Larson Family, 1970s: Bert, Iva, Bob and Sue

The Riverside sisters, Sue and Iva, both attended Ruth N. Upson Elementary, John Gorrie Junior High and Robert E. Lee High School, Sue graduating in 1957 and Iva graduating a few years later, at age 16. Sue attended Florida State in Tallahassee for a year and then returned to Jacksonville and got a job at the Florida Theatre “missing Elvis Presley by just two weeks!”  

Soon after Iva graduated from Lee High School, she saw an ad for the Miss Jacksonville Contest, first prize being a scholarship to Jacksonville University. That looked promising and, at age 17, nearly 6 feet tall, slim and attractive, the natural blonde thought she might have a chance at the scholarship. Local broadcaster Dick Stratton was one of the judges and the contest was held at the Florida Theatre. “I placed and got a nice little statue, but I didn’t win,” recalled Iva, adding that when her photo appeared in the paper as one of contestants, it garnered her several local modeling jobs (Ivey’s and Furchgott’s fashion shows) but not enough to avoid getting a full-time job.   

Iva’s first job was at H. H. Gage & Company on Forsyth Street. She was paid $15 per week and spent her days counting and sorting coffee beans…really. She then got a job at Furchgott’s Department Store as a salesgirl, but “failed” at cash register training and was demoted to gift-wrapping in the basement. Her next job was at Prudential Insurance Company.  Not only was the Prudential Building the tallest high-rise in town, it was “the place” to work.  Iva became an executive receptionist on the eighth floor, working for Charles Campbell, and attended Jacksonville University at night. Soon she was asked to be Prudential’s tour guide, taking visitors through the state-of-the-art building (putting green, library, etc.) and talking about the history of Jacksonville as well as the company.

Always enterprising and community-minded, Iva also became a docent for the Children’s Museum in Riverside, now a bed-and-breakfast on what used to be called “Millionaire’s Row.”  

In the meantime, Sue worked as an executive secretary for Tom Sawyer, booking acts at the Florida Theatre, and later became an executive secretary with the civil service, where she worked the remainder of her career. She married and had a son and daughter, James R. Jenkins and Iva Sue Jenkins, both still living in Jacksonville. Sue, a lifetime Riverside resident, now has three grandchildren, Aliya, Sierra and Dakota, and a great-grandson, Anthony.  

The wanderlust hit Iva Larson when she was still a teenager, and having saved $100 from her job at Prudential, she informed her parents that she was headed for New York to become a model. “I had a New York City map and $100, and knew no one in town,” recalled Iva. “My parents were, to say the least, a bit fearful, but I was young and invincible – so off I went on the train to New York!”

Iva Larson, 1956, poses for Janzen Swimwear
Iva Larson, 1956, poses for Janzen Swimwear

Iva moved into the Ferguson Residence for Women at 80 68th Street. The rent was $30 a week, and there were no men allowed above the first floor. She could see the Chrysler Building from her window and spent many nights gazing out the window and crying herself to sleep. She saw an ad in the paper about Janzen Swimwear hiring models in the garment district. When she walked into the Janzen headquarters, wearing a Saks 5th Avenue outfit she’d bought on sale, she was greeted by a chic receptionist with a British accent and ushered into the office of John Hamilton. She later discovered that Hamilton was from Spokane, Washington, and had two daughters. “I reminded him of one of his daughters and he could tell that I was a ‘hayseed,’ and totally naïve, which really endeared me to him. I got the job and Mr. Hamilton became my protector.”

Soon, Iva had moved uptown, sharing a brownstone apartment at 19 E. 76th Street with two roommates, who were secretaries. When her mother came to New York City for Iva’s 21st birthday, Iva was at work and had ordered a chicken dinner to be delivered but when her mother answered the door, several movers came in and hauled out the furniture. The landlord of the brownstone had not paid the rental fee for the furniture and it was being repossessed. Iva and her roommates came home to a bewildered lady from Jacksonville sitting in an empty apartment eating a chicken dinner. It was just one of many adventures in store for Iva Larson and her family.

Iva later moved up to 19 46th Street, next to the U.N., between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. She, of course, became a tour guide for the United Nations, and learned interesting facts to tell tourists, such as the fact that Manhattan is an Indian word for “Island of Hills.”

“The Carlyle was right across the street, and that was where the Kennedys stayed. We often saw John and Caroline Kennedy with their Secret Service men, and I got my hair done at Kenneth’s, where Jacqueline Kennedy got her hair done,” said Iva. Soon becoming the Southeastern promoter for Janzen Swimwear, Iva appeared in radio and television interviews and commercials. She met many celebrities, including Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine, and others, and became a model for the Wilhelmina Agency, appearing in McCall’s magazine and in myriad television commercials over the years, in New York, Philadelphia and around the world.  

While on a visit to Jacksonville, Iva met a Navy man, Edward Harry Duggan, Jr., on a tour of a destroyer at Mayport and married him. “Ed was a graduate of the Naval Academy and an Admiralty Attorney. He was from Brooklyn, New York, and we moved back to the City, where my son, Ivan, was born.” Sadly, Iva’s husband, Ed, died of cancer at a young age, and Iva brought Ivan back to Jacksonville, where he was raised in Riverside. 

Inheriting his mother’s looks and personality, Ivan was a natural for the camera and began modeling as a baby. “Ivan once complained that he had been working all his life…since the day he was born!” laughed Iva. In fact, of Iva’s three children, only her daughter, Francesca, has not appeared on a billboard. Both sons, Ivan and Jason, have modeled since they were boys.

And, after working most of her life, when Sue Jordan reached her 64th birthday, she took time off from her work with the federal government and was finally able to follow her lifelong dream of traveling to Africa. “I remember, as a child, listening to the Lone Ranger and the Shadow Knows and, especially, Tarzan, on the radio,” she said. “At first, I wanted to go to Africa to see Tarzan, but later I read and studied everything I could about Africa. I especially loved the book, ‘Gorillas in the Mist,’ by Dian Fossey. I decided to go to Uganda and Rwanda and follow Dian’s trail.”  

With two porters helping her and forest rangers guiding the way, Sue climbed 12,000 feet into the mountains where the Silverback Gorillas lived. Porters used machetes to slice through the thick bamboo and Sue walked on shards of bamboo as she crept closer and closer to where Fossey had been. She and those with her all wore surgical masks to protect the gorillas from human disease. She was warned, if she came close to a gorilla, not to look him in the eyes, as that would be a sign of aggression. At one point, a porter signaled for quiet and, sure enough, there was a huge gorilla just six feet from them. They stood perfectly still for an hour and the gorilla finally ambled off.  Sue was in Africa for a month and considers that trip one of the highlights of her life.

“We drove through Uganda and Rwanda in a land rover and slept in tents,” she recalled.  “We saw a lioness in the bush and so much more. It was everything I had dreamed it would be.”  A follow-up trip to Amsterdam was the icing on the cake.

As a model, Iva Larson traveled extensively around the globe and became accustomed to the finest of cuisine. She eventually was one of the first women to be invited to join La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an international gastronomic society originally founded in 1248 at the time of French King Louis IX. “I wasn’t there when they founded it,” joked Iva. However, she did establish the first chapter of the society here in Jacksonville back in the 1990s, and because it was known as a predominantly male society – “the men wore all the ribbons and the women did all the work” – three of the five officers she chose were women. Iva was Bailli Commandeur (president), Dr. Maria Victoria Acosta-Rua and Yvonne Corey were the other female officers. Plastic surgeon Bernie Kay and Restaurateur John Curington were the original distaff members. There are over 20,000 members worldwide and Iva now serves as Vice Chancelier/Argentier, Confrerie de la Chaine des Rotisseurs as well as the founding president of the Jacksonville branch.

Susan D. Brandenburg
Resident Community News

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