As a young tyke in the 1950s, little Larry Treleven thought his dad had the coolest, bestest job in the whole wide world.
Business owners from throughout the Puget Sound region called Alfred Treleven Jr. — owner of W.B Sprague & Co. Exterminators in Tacoma — to get rid of their wharf rats, mice, bed bugs, ants, termites, and weevils. And little Larry begged to help out.
He finally got his chance when his dad needed someone short enough to crawl under the creosote-soaked timbers of old Sperry Flour Mill dock, which once rose above Schuster Parkway in Tacoma, and throw around some rat bait. Easy peasy.
So then little Larry rode along with his dad to Seattle’s largest garbage dump, created atop Lake Washington marshland that is now part of the University of Washington campus. With rubber gloves, tongs, and a bucket, little Larry scampered over nearly 200 acres and 40 years of Seattle’s trash picking up dead rats.
After Larry graduated from Bellarmine Preparatory School, rather than go into the family business, he tested two more sanitary options. He studied briefly for the priesthood at St. Edwards Seminary in Kenmore before enrolling at the University of Washington to study teaching.
This was the 1960s.
It didn’t take Larry long to realize that dealing with radical changes in student behavior made the rats he dealt with as a kid more to his liking.
Today, Sprague Pest Solutions Inc. ranks No. 23 on the Top 100 List of U.S. pest-control companies. That’s up from. No. 40 in 2002, when PCT Magazine first compiled the list. In that time, Sprague has grown from $9 million in annual revenue to more than $32 million, with offices in 13 locations across eight Western states.
He has become so well known in the U.S. pest-control industry that — like Cher or Madonna — everyone knows him as just “Larry.”
In 2016, he earned election into the Pest Management Professional Hall of Fame. He served as president of the National Pest Management Association, helped found the Professional Pest Management Alliance, and still serves in pest leadership roles in several Western states. In December, the National Pest Management Association recognized Larry as the 2018 State Policy Affairs Representative of the Year for his diligent work representing the industry with regulators and elected representatives across Washington state, Wyoming, Utah, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho. And not long ago, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Washington State Pest Management Association.
Now in retirement age, Larry and his brother, Alfie (Alfred Treleven III), who served as co-presidents of Sprague for a number of years, have stepped back into lesser roles in favor of fourth-generation Treleven leadership.
And that, Larry says, makes Sprague unique.
Through the generations, “You never were given anything because your name was Treleven,” he said. “We all had to start at the bottom and, if we did well, work our way up.”
After officially joining Sprague in 1971, Larry worked first as a field technician and recalls crawling on his stomach under a commercial building in Seattle on a hunt for Rattus norvegicus, Norway rats, the stocky one-pounders with coarse brown fur. The hunt didn’t take long.
“We were trying to find where they were coming in,” he said. “I remember so many burrows. Burrows everywhere and feeling the rats running across the back of my legs as I crawled along.”
That’ll incentivize a quick climb up the management ladder.
These days, many of Sprague’s clients — who love the preventative pest control Sprague provides — don’t especially want you to know they have pest problems.
The hotels and hospitals with bed bugs in the mattresses. Flies in operating rooms. The freight containers, military bases, and food-distribution warehouses that need periodic fumigation to fend off brown marmorated stink bugs and Turkestan cockroaches. The expanding roof rat populations in commercial buildings, restaurants, and apartment complexes. Grocery stores with fruit flies. The maize weevils and red flour beetles in the corn storage bins. Rattlesnakes in the grain elevators.
You can see why businesses you visit might want to keep their pest problems on the down low. That’s why Larry’s company vehicles just have “Sprague” painted on them. Except if you look closely, you’ll notice all 250-plus company vehicles have pest-related vanity license plates like BUGMAN, BUGLESS, or RATGONE.
If you see a Sprague car with the license plate GOTMICE, that’s Larry.