One early spring afternoon much too pleasant for business affairs, Mr. Reynolds telephoned Starr of the Commonwealth. “Floyd,” he said, “I want you to come down here right away. I can’t tell you why.” Starr seldom argued with major donors, so he packed his bag, boarded the train, and arrived at Palm Springs on a Sundayafternoon. While there, Mrs. Reynold’s sister came in to announce, “We have just had word that Henry Candler is very ill. He’s already in acoma, and the doctors say he can’t possibly live until morning.” Mrs. Reynolds turned to Starr and asked him to call the Commonwealth to have the boys pray for Candler.
As Starr said later, “I think this was the greatest challenge to my faith that I have ever had. I barely knew the man, and his name meant little to the boys.” It was not without misgivings that he went to the telephone, called Mrs.Erwin Mason, explained briefly the circumstances, and instructed her to organize a campus-wide prayer vigil.”
Next morning the report came in: “Mr. Candler is still alive but his death is expected momentarily.” To the amazement of the hospital staff, not only did he survive that day but he began to regain consciousness. As Starr concluded hisaccount, “After further treatment Mr. Candler was restored to perfect health and lived until he was 93 years of age.” To the skeptics who are ever with us, Henry Candler said only, “You want proof for the efficacy of prayer. Here am I, your living proof.”
Not long after his recovery, Mr. Candler made “a very wonderful donation” to the Commonwealth. It was thebeginning of a remarkable largesse. As the Chapel-in-the-Woods was nearing completion, he sent a letter to Starr asking what it would cost to install the pews, lectern, the pulpit and the choir stalls. After Starr sent him the estimate, several months passedwith no response. When Starr returned to Palm Springs to be with the Reynolds, Mrs. Reynoldsfortuitously arranged a dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Candler and their son Boyer. It was a memorable dinner. As Starr related the incident later, “When I left the yacht for the Reynolds home, Mrs. Candler handed me a sealed envelope and said, ‘Don’t lose this, but just before you go to bed open it.’ When I opened it that night, I found it contained a check for nearly $10,000 to cover the entire cost of furnishing our beautiful chapel.”
Less than a year later the Candler’s were Starr’s guests at GladsomeCottage. Although the perfect dinner had been served with impeccable finesse, Candler seemed oddly ill at ease. When the little company had found seats in the front room, he asked his host, “Floyd, where do you entertain guests when they visit the school?” After talking a while Candler thought a moment and said, “Floyd, you should have a guest house. I want to build it as a home for you to use as long as you live and a guest house afterwards. Now, set your mind to it and let’s see what kind of place we can build.”
With the assistance of their Detroit architect Marcus Burrowes, they planned wisely and well. “Old English in style,” as the Detroit New reporter described it, Candler Hall has served equally well as private home, as guest house, and as the presidential residence. Starr arranged his own suite on the second floor, though the area could be easily adapted for four guest rooms. The main floor “provides a huge living room and dining room,” that same reporter noted, and he could have added a spacious kitchen and a comfortable study. Starr was especially pleased with the generous proportions. “For the first time,” he commented, “I will have a living room and dining room large enough to entertain a wholecottage of my boys at dinner.”
It was difficult for Floyd to move from Gladsome Cottage in 1957. To ease the move away from the familiar, Starr took with him to his suite in Candler Hall a scattering of family antiques and Gladsome furnishings. “Some of my friends call me a hopeless sentimentalist,” headmitted, “but I do love the past just the same. Not that it was all that happy, I suppose; after all, we did have our funerals as well as our weddings. Well, as they say, all sunshine and no rain would make a big desert.”
Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.