Dale Larson, the Man Behind the Math
How can you tell an extroverted accountant from an introverted accountant?
That question from Dale Larson greeted me in DTS’s Horner Administration Building’s breakroom. I smiled and asked, “How?” “The extroverted accountant looks at the other person’s shoes,” Dale replied and grabbed a cup for coffee. “Oh! As opposed to his own shoes!” I laughed. He nodded. I should have suspected this father of three would have some dad jokes up his sleeve—especially one with an accountant twist.
Jokes aside, Dale has served as DTS’s Vice President for Finance/CFO and has handled the Seminary’s financial matters for 23 years. Dale first joined the Seminary in 1984 as our controller and quickly moved up in the accounting ranks. He served DTS until 1995, by then in the role of both treasurer and controller. Dale returned to the Seminary in 2009 as Vice President of Business and Finance at a critical time. Chancellor Dr. Mark Bailey, who, during his presidency, was instrumental in Dale returning to the Seminary, states, “When you find yourself in deep water and in over your head, you need a life-preserver. Dale is and has been a life-preserver for us at DTS, and me in particular, for many years. Dale, the consummate professional for his role, has a national reputation far beyond the Seminary and is highly respected among his financial CFO peers.”
Some people may envision accountants as number crunchers hunched over a desk—calculator and pencil nearby—concerned with only the color of numbers (i.e., numbers in the red or black). Yet if you ask Dale’s team members about him, you’ll hear recurring accolades: an intelligent man who loves his family and his home state of Nebraska; a kind, hardworking man who makes a to-die-for peanut butter brittle.
Jennifer McCormack, Director of Financial Aid, states, “Dale has always been very kind to me. He pushed me to work harder and think bigger.” She shares that his caring, family-man personality extends to those beyond his immediate family circle. “I brought my son to the office a few times when he was little, and Dale always treated him with kindness. When Micah was in kindergarten, Dale brought over his whiteboard for Micah to practice his letters. Dale still has the picture that Micah drew for him in his office. Micah is thirteen now, so that’s been quite a while ago.”
Lisa Reeves, DTS’s Bursar, has known Dale since she was nineteen years old. She states, “Dale is one of the smartest people I know. That’s very intimidating when you’re young.” She also says that Dale “has an open door; you can always go in and speak openly with him.” Patricia Mayabb, who served as the Seminary’s Controller until 2020, shares, “I have never known anyone as dedicated to their work or profession as Dale. He’s extremely intelligent and highly respected in higher ed accounting circles. He is also dedicated to his family and his church.”
So what makes this numbers guy so personable? Dr. Bailey accredits Dale’s success to a key relationship. “Dale is valued because his accounting and financial leadership is matched by his heart for the Lord and the ministry. He has the character and leadership of a biblical elder, and he is one of the best teammates a seminary president could ever have.” Current DTS President Dr. Mark Yarbrough agrees. “Dale is the best CFO bar none. He has a contagious spirit, and it unites people together.”
In order to get the story behind our business math man, I’ve asked Dale to recount his experience—a sort of audit report of the valuable life afforded to him:
Dale, can you share your testimony with us?
I grew up in a small rural town in Nebraska. Our family attended a Lutheran church, and my mom volunteered for everything. We never missed a Sunday. I knew from an early age that Jesus is God’s Son, a Savior, risen from the dead, one who performed miracles. Yet to me, this didn’t seem real. During my sophomore year of college, I saw the life of my older brother change. He went from a rather wild character to one who was now sharing his faith in Christ. He demonstrated a faith I didn’t have but desperately wanted. My brother Glenn asked me to attend a Bible Study, and he shared the Good News. I so wanted to believe, but all I had was severe doubt. It wasn’t until late one night, several months later, that I cried to God that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up. I told Him I didn’t know how to get a faith that was real—one like my brother had. All I had was doubt. I so much wanted to believe; I needed Him so desperately. For some reason, faith was overcome by doubt. It was so heavy it was almost oppressive. Crying, I fell asleep.
F. W. Robertson described this misery like that of “one who has felt the ice cracking beneath his feet, and finds himself on a single ice block, severed, alone, and drifting out into freezing darkness.” Morning came, and something had changed; the doubt was gone, and I knew Christ is real. It was like God had heard my prayer, lifted this burden of doubt, and tossed it to the side.
"You may know that He is the Son of God, that He died and has risen, and sits at the right hand of the Father; still you have not yet truly known Christ, it is all to no avail to you; but you must know and believe that He has done it all for your sake, if your faith is to help you" —Martin Luther, Epistles of St. Peter & St. Jude Preached & Explained.
How did the Lord lead you to DTS?
During my remaining years of college, I “majored” in Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) activities. After graduating, I joined staff for Cru and was assigned to work in their School of Theology in Southern California and the Institute for Biblical Studies. There, I met and then married my wife, Elaine, who was also on staff with Cru. Elaine grew up in Dallas. Whenever we visited family, I would make an effort to drop by DTS to try and learn something about how they did things. In 1984 I received a call from DTS, and they offered me a job in the accounting office. After a few months, I became Director of Accounting and eventually Controller/Treasurer.
After 11 years, I left to work as Director of Finance at the University of Dallas (UD). Everything at DTS was stable. Going into UD, I knew they had a bunch of things broken, and I really enjoyed fixing things. Things became fixed. Thirteen years had passed when I received a call from Dr. Bailey asking me to return to DTS. Since I really enjoyed fixing things, it seemed an obvious thing to do, so I returned in 2009.
Can you share some reflections on your time at DTS?
Those earlier years at DTS were fiscally challenging. We never knew if we would make the annual fund, approximately $4 million, and constraining budgets were a challenge, particularly with the 1986 recession. Working under three presidents (Walvoord, Campbell, and Swindoll), all of whom had very different management styles, kept things interesting, to say the least.
What I enjoyed most then and when I returned in 2009 was being able to work with some extraordinary individuals—both in the business office, on campus, and with the Board. I most enjoyed working at DTS because it allowed me to help others. I’ve never been one that defines the vision, but I love helping those that do in any way.
Your contributions to higher education extend beyond DTS. Would you share some of your accomplishments and volunteer activities with us?
I’ve enjoyed being able to help others in the higher education sector. However, most of what I was able to see accomplished, with God’s help, will seem quite boring to most.
In 2004, I authored and then published the accounting definition of an operating surplus for colleges and universities in The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) Advisory Report. This financial reporting guidance allowed institutions to become uniform in distinguishing activities that were related to central ongoing operations from activities that were not.
Then in 2006, I represented higher education on the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) task force to help develop guidance on how to audit alternative investments. For these projects, NACUBO awarded me their David D. Robinson Award. That was cool. The U.S. Department of Education appointed me to represent all accreditors on their Subcommittee for Financial Responsibility in 2018. We were able to fix numerous problems with the calculation of the Financial Responsibility Score. This, too, was quite fun.
I currently volunteer on NACUBO’s planning committee for their Higher Education Accounting Forum conference, and I enjoy volunteer work with European Christian Ministry International (ECMI). I also serve as Vice Chair/Treasurer for the American Academy for Liberal Education (a national accreditor for arts and science programs).
And your family, will you tell us about them?
Elaine and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary next June. We have three wonderful kids who also found wonderful spouses—Laura (Justin) Garison, Matt (Emily) Larson, and Brian (Samantha) Larson. We have been blessed with three super special granddaughters—Juliet and Rosalie Garison (Laura and Justin’s) and Melody Larson (Brian and Samantha’s).
Ok, I keep hearing about your love for Nebraska. Can you share some information about that?
What I love about Nebraska is that it is where it all started. It is home. That is where I first came to faith and where my brother Glenn and two sisters, Ann and Helen, live. My younger brother, Wayne, pastors a church in Iowa; however, we don’t give him too much grief since he still roots for the Cornhuskers.
What have you found to be most amazing during your tenure at DTS?
Being able to see God accomplish so much has been my biggest delight. For example, seeing a $4 million scholarship endowment grow to $65 million is astounding. Also, seeing how God has brought so many quality people to DTS and placed them in key positions at just the right time is another example. Surviving the COVID-19 shutdown and coming out of that period stronger than before is a miracle.
What are you looking forward to during your retirement?
I look forward to spending more time with Elaine and the grandkids. I also plan to focus on several higher ed accounting and reporting projects. As most retirees will tell you, having fewer meetings is an added bonus.
Those who have had the privilege to work with Dale attest to his gentle spirit, sharp intelligence, and dry humor. His leadership and oversight regarding finances have blessed DTS tremendously.
Dale, from those who’ve counted with you to those who’ve counted on you, thank you for 23 years of faithful service to our Seminary. We certainly wish you the best.
“It is a privilege and pleasure to call Dale my friend. I will always ‘treasure’ (pun intended) our years together. Dale, you are loved and appreciated by many, especially by me.”
—Mark Bailey, Chancellor (President from 2001 to 2020)
“I’m so thankful for Dale’s service. The Lord brought Dale to DTS at just the right time. He served as one of President Mark Bailey’s ‘mighty men’ in leading DTS out of a severe financial crisis. Dale stabilized the Seminary’s finances and, over time, became the go-to man for all business and financial questions at DTS. We will greatly miss his humility, dependability, creativity, wisdom, and judgment.”
—Robert McCulloch, Board of Incorporate Members Secretary and Board of Trustee Member
“Dale, you are an ‘accountants’ accountant.’ God gifted you as an accountant, and you have used your talents to His glory. You came to the Seminary at a critical time in 2009. Our financial integrity was being tested, and you immediately brought stability, credibility, and excellence to the faculty and staff, board, auditors, financial institutions, and donors. As Chairman of the Board of Incorporate Members during your tenure, I give you thanks. It was a privilege to labor alongside of you. I bid you Godspeed as you enter a well-deserved retirement. May the Lord bless you and Elaine during the next phase of your lives in whatever you decide to do.”
—Robert Murchison, Board Member (Board Chairman from 2009 to 2021 and former Board of Trustee Member)
“Dale has been such a blessing to DTS. His steady hand and wealth of knowledge have positioned the Seminary for a bright future. May God bless you and your family along with your future service to the kingdom.”
—Michael Redden, Board Member and Trustee (Trustee Chairman from 2009 to 2012)
“Dale, you blessed DTS significantly when you agreed to return as Vice President in 2008. Mark Bailey, Larry Jobe (former Board of Trustee Chairman), and I were in shock as to where to turn during that most difficult year. But the Lord in His grace moved in your heart, and you came to the Seminary’s rescue. All of us on the Board and in the Administration during those years following will be forever in your debt. Thank you not only for your gift to the Seminary of financial expertise but also for your personal integrity, gentleness of spirit, sound wisdom, and deep personal commitment to our Lord, which have governed your every action. Dale, it is a privilege to know you and to watch you so faithfully hold the Seminary in trust all these years. May the Lord richly bless you in the years to come.”
—George Underwood, Board Member (Board Chairman from 1998 to 2009 and former Board of Trustee Member)
"Dale, I appreciate you! It has been such a joy to work alongside you and get to know you. You have provided so much confidence to the board with your expertise, conservatism, and transparency. I want to wish you many blessings in however you serve God next. I will really miss you."
–Randy Howard, Board Member and Trustee (Trustee Chairman from 2015 to 2018)
“As Prof. Howard Hendricks was fond of saying—Dale ‘puts the cookies on the lower shelf.’ He takes the technical and presents it so all can understand. What makes Dale unique is his ability to read the room and anticipate where action is needed. Fiscally, he knows what to anticipate and is already framing systems and structures to address issues around the corner—before they arrive. It is a rare gift, and one that has helped DTS avoid many potholes. On a personal note, Dale’s voice of inspiration as I moved into the presidency was unmatched. That Nebraskan is an encourager! Dale, thank you for helping DTS, by God’s grace, position itself for the future. It simply will not be the same without you. We are a better school because of you.”
–Mark Yarbrough, President
About the Contributors
Margaret Tolliver (MAMC, 2012) serves as the administrative coordinator for board meetings in the president’s office at Dallas Theological Seminary. She also volunteers in her church, ministering in praise/worship dance and teaching children about the gospel, God’s Word, and baptism. Her favorite thing to do is to encourage others to seek the Lord in everything that they do, especially if she can use the creative arts to do so.