Albion Interactive History / Knights Center

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Buildings / Starr Commonwealth

Knights Center, 1960

Perhaps to the surprise of Floyd Starr himself, the burgeoning of the north campus seemed to spur still more donations to the school. The first gift at this point did not come from a foundation but from the Knights Templar of Michigan. Somehow Starr managed to maintain an active membership in the Masonic Order during the developmental years of the Commonwealth, even attaining the rank of a 33rd degree Mason. Then in 1950 theMarch issue of Masonic World noted the “Floyd Starr, well known humanitarian and founder of the Starr Commonwealth for Boys, has been dubbed a Knight Templar in theMarshall Commandery.” Past Grand Commander J. Clifford Smith, a 1910 Albion College classmate of Starr, presided at the ceremony. Among his fellow Masons, Starr wasaddressed thereafter as “Sir Knight Floyd Starr.”

Encouraged at the same time by Mrs. Wilbur Brucker, wife of the former Governor of Michigan, the Knights Templar of Michigan “adopted the school” and contributed generously to its support for several years. Then at a recognition banquet for Starr in 1957, Commander W. EdwardDewey informed him that his fellow Knights had pledged to raise $100,000 to build a recreation center on the Albion campus. “It’s going to be a big project for us fromnow on,” he said, “but we are determined to see it through.” Clifford Smith was even more enthusiastic. “I think helping those boys,” he declared, “will help us as Templars just as much as it will the boys.”

When Starr accepted the gift on behalf of the school, he explained briefly why a recreation center would be so welcome. “We keep the boys well occupied during the day,” hesaid. “They have their chores and they go to school. After school there is time on the playground. It is after supper when the boys grow restless. A new recreation center will make good use of that time.” From the outset, it was to be built to serve many boys in many ways. As the Jackson CitizenPatriot reported, “Besides providing three basketball courts, space for badminton, table tennis, and other sports, it will be the scene of parties for the Starr boys onholidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.” In addition, the article noted, “It will be possibly the only gymnasium in the country with a fireplace.” Other than the fireplace, Starr stressed utility throughout. “We want a building that is usable,” heasserted, “with no frills or furbelows. I have instructed FrankDean, our Albion architect, and the Eisenhauer Construction Company of Marshall to use materials that will last a century.”

After a strong start, the fund drive began to flounder. In Mat 1958, chairman”Gib” Smith sent out a desperate call for help. “Remember,” hewrote in the Michigan Templar, “this is not an ordinary crusade for bricks and mortar, concrete andsteel, oak and glass. It is a Holy Crusade to build a Temple of Good Deeds, to erect a structure of heart and soul to God. It is a building to build boys – needy, deserving, troubled boys who long for another chance.” By was of further inducement, he added that a $5 donation would insure one’s name in a white-covered book to be kept on display in thefoyer of the building,” and a $25 gift would result in “having your name inscribed on a beautiful bronzeplaque.” Within another month Smith announced still another enticement: “The latest means of securing moneys for the recreation center is through thedistribution of small bronze medallions picturing a young boy before the world on one side and a picture of the proposedbuilding on the other side.”

Thanks largely to Smith’s persistence, the Knights Templar reached their goal in early spring of 1959. At the 103rd conclave of the Grand Commandery held in Ann Arbor on June 22, they presented Starr a $100,000 certificate. Unfortunately, during years of wartime inflation the estimate for the original structure had soared another $80,000, and it was up to the Commandery to find the difference. Since they were still in the midst of their original campaign, meeting that goal might be difficult.

As soon as Starr learned of the imminent shortfall, he set to work in his own ways. He had learned over the years the first place to go for money is where the money is, so again he turned to the Kresge Foundation. When thefoundation turned down his petition, Starr fell back on another favorite strategy: Line up a hundred of your most generous donors, ask each for only onethousand dollars, then play one name against another as the checks come in. He hadwon that game before, and won it again. By the close of 1959, these donations enabled the Commonwealth to announce the new facility. On December 8, Mrs. G. Mennen Williams, the wife of the governor, turned the firstshovel of earth at the ground breaking ceremony, and Grand Commander Maurice B. Allen reviewed the course of events leading up to the occasion. For Uncle Floyd and his boys, that wintry hour was the harbinger of many good days tocome.

Though the Knights Templar recreation center was completed in January 1961, and “put into immediate use,” it was May 5 when the dedication program was held in the new facility. Wayne Hayes, Ohio State University’s head football coach, was on hand to assert that “sports give a new dimension to education as they teach participant to become unselfish and also exercise self-control.” Bob Mathias, two-time Olympicdecathlon champion, also was present to maintain that “there’s nothing better for the youth of America than to get them started inathletics when they are young.” Neal Fenkell, the public relations director for the Detroit Tigers,carried much the same theme into adulthood when he spoke for professional sports.

though sportsmen and sports dominated the afternoon, former governor Wilbur Brucker did find space for a few remarks, Sir Knight Starr introduced a galaxy of Templars fromthe Michigan Grand Commandery, and Fund Chairman J. Clifford Smith received a well-deserved round of applause for his efforts. The boys made many friends that day, both on and off the platform.

Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.

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