Everybody who met grill master, corny joke connoisseur and bid whist braggart Larry Arnold remembered him, and he remembered everyone he met.
Born Jan. 9, 1950, on the West Side, Arnold spent his lifetime collecting bits and pieces of information.
The Chicago Vocational School graduate could recall fleeting moments with distant relatives at family reunions, the origin stories of his favorite musicians like the Temptations or Marvin Gaye, shortcuts to get around Chicago-area tollways and much more.
“He was amazing with facts,” said niece Donya Alase.
This keen memory made Arnold a “Jeopardy” master. The South Shore resident loved it so much, his 70th birthday celebration last year was spent playing a Black-history-themed version of the game.
His talent for barbecuing was also on display that day. Other recipes weren’t as beloved — “he thought he could make a really good potato salad,” Alase said with a hint of joking disgust.
But Arnold’s skills on the grill were unquestioned, and loved ones often asked him when he would go into business selling his ribs and sweet lemonade, she said.
Arnold, 70, died March 31 from coronavirus.
Arnold spent his professional life in many fields as he bounced around the country, living in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
He was a Jewel-Osco security guard, a supply room clerk and even an extra in the 1973 action film “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.”
His final job before retirement was serving as a site manager for early voting at Olive-Harvey College. Arnold was passionate about politics and cared deeply about the social advancement of Black people, said his niece, Angelyn Vanderbilt.
“Whether they were the oldest person who voted in the area or a first-time voter, he was excited about that,” Vanderbilt said. “He put so much of his energy and passion into it.”
After spending nearly a decade as an election judge, Arnold would have been overjoyed to see how many people took advantage of early and mail-in voting options in the 2020 general election, Vanderbilt said.
When Arnold fell ill with coronavirus in March, it was early on in the pandemic and contradictory and false information abounded, said Arnold’s grand-nephew, Justen Vanderbilt.
“There were so many things that you’re hearing on the internet, on TV,” Justen Vanderbilt said. “‘This is how you prevent COVID. You can get it this way. You can’t get it this way.’ Nobody knew anything.”
As Arnold’s condition worsened, his niece, Alase, said she tried to talk him into calling an ambulance, but he refused. He did not trust area hospitals.
Vanderbilt, who also lives in South Shore, said she doesn’t blame her uncle for his distrust of struggling neighborhood hospitals.
“That’s a partial takeaway for us — we don’t have adequate health care” on the South Side, Vanderbilt said. “… I have no confidence in the resources.”
Arnold died at age 70 on March 31 at Advocate Christ Medical Center in suburban Oak Lawn. Chicagoans can honor his life by wearing a mask, washing their hands, social distancing and respecting all other coronavirus precautions, his family members said.
It is a cruel irony Arnold died of a contagious virus that barred visitors from sharing in his last moments, Alase said.
Because Arnold made so many connections in his lifetime, his family has yet to organize his funeral service. It would draw far too large a crowd for a pandemic, Alase said.
When loved ones are able to safely congregate again, the life of South Shore’s “barbecue king” will be celebrated with a picnic. Maybe it will be held in Jackson Park near his favorite fishing spots in the city, or maybe near his childhood home in a West Side park.
Wherever it’s held, the venue must be large enough to host every relative and friend who met and loved Arnold during his 70 years of life.
“He had a buddy in every part of the country,” Alase said. “If it was East Point, Nowhere, he had a friend there — and they probably had dinner waiting for him when he arrived.”
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