A Life of Adventures ... and Llamas

The interesting journey to SU’s Institute of Public Service for director Larry Hubbell

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Rick Dahms
May 18, 2015
Larry Hubbell’s life is full of world adventures, hard work and a hearty sense of humor.

Professor Hubbell, who is director of Seattle University’s Institute of Public Service, twice received Fulbright Specialist Awards in public administration: one in Lithuania, the other in Sierra Leone.

He gave lectures and taught courses in South Africa, China, Taiwan, Italy, Indonesia, Panama and Russia and trained rice farmers in Cambodia how to start a business. Once he did a research project on London street gangs. He’s also a novelist and short story writer.

Hubbell says he arrived at Seattle U in search of “a capstone for his career” after 25 years at the University of Wyoming. He delved right into searching for new ways to analyze learning outcomes of students who want to become leaders in public service.

Then he began to ponder the 70 different nonprofit organizations he consulted for in Wyoming, the 700 Seattle U alumni on his mailing list and his interest in organization development. He had the acumen to start a consulting group to provide community services under the institute’s umbrella while offering hands-on training for students.

As he adjusted to his new job in a new state last July, Hubbell still faced the Herculean domestic task of finding a home for himself, his wife Kelly and their 14 llamas. That’s right, 14 shaggy-coated, toothy, long-necked and amazingly inquisitive 250- to 350-pound hoofed mammals. (A llama is nearly twice the size of an alpaca, in case you’re curious.)

The Hubbells got the itch to raise llamas in the early 1980s when they ran a country inn in rural New Hampshire.

“A lot of work that was,” he says, shaking his head. “But we couldn’t have llamas there and certainly couldn’t in D.C.,” where he worked for both Volunteers in Service to America and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Hubbells came here from a 90-acre ranch in Laramie, small by Wyoming standards. Scouting for a place to accommodate their brood led them to the southern reaches of Vashon Island, where horse lovers had left behind a house and barn on five acres, huge by Seattle-area standards.

Next up, fences. Lots and lots of sturdy fences to corral those ever-curious llamas. Then came the challenge that daunted many of Hubbell’s colleagues: transporting a herd of 14 llamas 1,200 miles to their new home. Not quite like moving a couch and grandma’s fine china.

How did the llamas survive the trek? Hubbell rolls his head and eyes and starts looking for his sea legs like he just stepped off a high-speed watercraft.

It’s not easy to imitate a llama, but after 10 years of sharing life with them, he’s mastered the art.

While the move to the Puget Sound region involved an adjustment for all, after so many years on the edge of the Wyoming frontier the Hubbells are relieved to escape the inevitable four-foot snow drifts. Hubbells and herd are adapting nicely to the Northwest now, although one of the elder llamas died in February.

Kelly Hubbell, a counselor who taught how to integrate mental health into primary health care at the University of Wyoming, is also a spinner and weaver. She is pleased to have found a network of like-minded women on Vashon. As the weather warms, she’ll shear the llamas for their downy soft undercoat, which she spins for her weaving projects.

Caring for llamas, says Kelly, takes about 1½ to 2 hours a day. Five llamas eat about as much as one horse. While the Hubbells haven’t trained their llamas as pack animals, they say a llama leaves the same ecological footprint in the forest as a human.

Of the eight females and six males (four of which were born on their Wyoming ranch), “Dewey” heads the herd. They say she’s bossy and very intelligent. One winter, she and some of the others escaped.

“Back there, we had very few fences and llamas really only come back when they want to. When I caught up with Dewey, I told her, ‘Dewey, I’m tired of running after you.’ And she turned right around and came home,” says Larry.

Little of this llama talk speaks to Hubbell’s exuberance for what he tackles at Seattle U. At his office in the Casey Building, he cooks up more strategies for the institute and its public service degree programs—Master of Public Administration, Bachelor of Arts in Public Affairs and the Public Administration and Law joint degree. Looking ahead, Hubbell envisions hybrid courses that combine online teaching with existing night and weekend classes for the MPA degree.

Given his experience as an international consultant for U.S. Agency for International Development projects around the world, he’s hoping to attract more foreign students to the institute, particularly from Šiauliai University in Lithuania and from Macau in China. In March, College of Arts and Sciences Dean David Powers and Kan Liang, a modern Chinese history expert who is an associate dean in Arts and Sciences, joined Hubbell on a student recruiting trip to Hong Kong and Macau.    

“We are confident his experience in public administration will lead the program to the next level of growth and achievement,” says Kathleen La Voy, associate dean who oversees graduate programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, “and that his love of llamas will keep him sane in the process.”

Online extra:
Larry Hubbell’s creativity and humor inspires him to pen more than academic papers. After spending time in Russia, he wrote a novel titled Almost Dysfunctional: An American Academic’s Search for Solace in Russia. He also writes short stories for Public Voices, a Rutgers University journal that publishes “unorthodox, controversial perspectives on bureaucracy in particular and the public sector in general.” He recently crafted a short laugh-out-loud parody about a graduate student’s struggles with his quirky dissertation committee.
hubbell Larry Hubbell with his curious and loved llamas.