Eleanor Burns Larson

Date of Birth

October 21, 1942

Date of Death

July 23, 2021

City of Death

Santa Barbara, CA

Eleanor Burns Larson, 78, of Santa Barbara, Cal. passed away peacefully on July 23, 2021 at her home in Santa Barbara from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that was diagnosed in June of 2020. She was preceded in death by her parents. Eleanor is survived by her husband of 44 years David Forrest Larson and cousins:  Frank (Mary Jane) Bentz, Waleska, GA, John (Irene) Bentz, Morrisville, PA, Jane (Somnez) Atesoglu, Potsdam, NY, Mary B. Stratton, Salisbury, MD, Eileen (Alan) Schuetz, High Bridge, NJ, Anne (Joseph) Maco, Piscataway, NJ, John (Peggy) Hirsch, Ashland, OR.

Eleanor (Eleanor Witherspoon Burns) Burns Larson was born to Edward McNall Burns and Marie Katherine Bentz on October 21, 1942 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She enjoyed a happy childhood and spent many weekends and vacations at the beach at Surf City on the Jersey Shore or traveling with her parents. As an adult international travel was an important part of her life. Her last trip was to Chile to experience a total solar eclipse and to see the moai statues on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in July 2019.

When Eleanor was seventeen she spent a year in Germany while her father was teaching as a Fulbright Scholar at The Free University of Berlin in West Berlin. While at the University of Chicago she was active in the civil rights movement and later the anti-war movement and marches.

Eleanor began a career in computer programming and management in 1967 and continued in that field for more than 35 years until retiring in 1993 to help care for her mother in Santa Barbara.

In 1973 Eleanor became interested in cave exploring and joined The Windy City Grotto (WCG) and The National Speleological Society (NSS). She became a life member of both the NSS (#14907) and WCG. She was the WCG Chairperson in 1984 and 1985 and Treasurer for many years.

Eleanor married David Larson who she had met at a meeting of The WCG. They were married on March 19, 1977. They purchased a home in La Grange, Ill. She loved cats, especially Siamese and always had three cats living with her. She was an excellent cook who enjoyed trying out new recipes which she was always willing to share with others.

Eleanor loved opera and had season tickets to the Lyric Opera in Chicago. She especially liked Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelung and Mozart’s Magic Flute.

Eleanor became a total solar eclipse chaser in July 1991 and on July 2, 2019 saw her 15th total solar eclipse in Chile. She expected to see another total solar eclipse in Chile in December of 2020. Covid restrictions and the rapid progression of ALS prevented her from traveling. The July 16, 1991 total solar eclipse as seen from the Sea of Cortez was the longest total solar eclipse, at almost seven minutes long, of the 20th Century. Her comments as totality ended were that “it was too short!” and “When and where is the next total eclipse?”. Experiencing a total solar eclipse was a life changing event for her. She always knew the date and place of the next total solar eclipse. In March of 2006 Eleanor and David were part of select group that were able travel to Libya to see a four minute long spectacular total solar eclipse from a site in the Sahara desert. They also witnessed a beautiful “green flash” at sunset on the night before the eclipse.

Eleanor hosted the WCG News printing and mailing parties six times a year for over two decades. Eleanor was a docent at the Traveling Bats exposition at The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. She later became a part time docent in the Mesoamerican Hall of the Museum. As a freshman at the University of Chicago she planned to become an Egyptologist and had a lifelong interest in Ancient Egypt. She was also interested in Maya civilization and cave use in Belize.

In 2000 Eleanor and David moved to her parents’ home in Santa Barbara.
Eleanor took classes at the Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) school of Extended Learning, where she made gold, silver, and enameled jewelry, and ceramics. Many of her enameled pieces of jewelry were inspired by total eclipses and cave formations. Eleanor was the student coordinator for all of the annual SBCC school of Extended Learning Arts and Crafts Fairs held each December at the Wake Campus in Santa Barbara.

Eleanor was the co-director of the Xibalba Mapping and Exploration Team (XMET) cave project in Belize for over twenty years and her drive and dedication is what made the project successful. The XMET project surveyed and photographed several major caves in Belize under the auspices of the Institute of Archaeology of Belize. She managed the logistics for the project in addition to surveying some of the caves and operating the radio base station for the project. She especially enjoyed helping with the canoe shuttle in Barton Creek Cave in Cayo, Belize. Eleanor would paddle a kilometer into the cave alone after the tourists had left to pick up a cave survey team. The only sound was the splash of her paddle in the stream and the bats flying above, getting ready to leave the cave to feed after sunset. She loved just being in a cave and experiencing the beauty and ambience of the underground environment.

Eleanor was made a Fellow of The NSS in 2006 in recognition of her decades of service to the caving community. Eleanor was a licensed extra class amateur radio operator in both the United States as KE6BL and in Belize as V31EL. She was also an ARRL accredited amateur radio volunteer license examiner.


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