Establishment of the Starr Commonwealth of Ohio fulfilled one dream which Starr had cherished foryears. The appointment of a Starr graduate to serve as director of a branch campus was a second dream that went back even farther. Ever since Starr lost his son David to law school, and then finally to the Ford Motor Company, he had searched forone of his own to take a major role in helping him with his work. With every promise for the future, Gordon Langley was that man.
From infancy Gordon had known only foster homes. Unrecognized by his father and deserted by his mother, he knewfirsthand the loneliness and frustrations that come from rejection. In time the bitterness turned into sullenrebelliousness. As Starr once commented, “Gordon was never a real delinquent, he was just hard to manage.”
After a series of minor misdemeanors, at the age of twelve Gordon was referred to the Commonwealth. When he first came into the president’s office, Starr beheld a skinny wraith of a boy topped by an unrulyshock of sandy red hair. Something tugged at his heart, and from that moment he and Gordon shared an abiding affection that baffles description.
As months passed into years, Gordon entered more and more fully into cottage life. By his mid-teens he had become popular among staff and students alike. Thumbing through back issues of Starr Boys, one often comes across his picture: the young man in surplice when he sang in the chapel choir, in basketball togs as he led scorers in many a game, and in a business suit after he became a Panel Boy who drove Uncle Floyd throughout southern Michigan.Perhaps most frequent is a picture of Gordon, comb and shears in hand, as he barbered his way across campus month after month.
Gordon spent five years on the Albion campus, which was not unusual at that time for a virtual orphan. Since Starr schools have never awarded high-school diplomas, he spent his senior year at the Kalamazoo High School, from which he graduated in 1943. At that time the country was wholly committed to World War II. Rather thanawait the vagaries of Selective Service, the young graduate immediately enlisted in the Army Air Corps. there he entered training as abombardier, earned a commission as first lieutenant, then accepted an honorable discharge when VJ day precluded serviceoverseas.
Immediately after leaving military service, Langley enrolled in the three year pre-lawprogram at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Rather than aspiring to practice law, a StarrNews item explained, “He is interested in taking up law because he is interested in youth problems and feels that he can be usefulin forwarding the work that Uncle Floyd has proved to be so worthwhile.”
Soon Gordon met a vivacious business administration major named EleanorLarson. Upon their introduction, Eleanor knew little of Uncle Floyd and the Commonwealth, but Gordon soon made her an authority – and a convert. When Starr pronounced Eleanor “a very charming young lady indeed,” his approval was all the encouragement Gordon needed. On August 21, 1949, “Two hundred guests witnessed the candlelight ceremony when Gordon Langley and EleanorLarson were united in marriage by Dr. Dwight Large of the First United MethodistChurch of Kalamazoo.” Within the decade that followed, three daughters came into the family: Diana in 1951, Janice in 1954, andMarcia in 1957. At Founder’s Day in 1951, Diana had the distinction of being the first “Starr baby” baptized in the newly completedChapel-in-the-Woods.
After their marriage, Gordon absorbed a variety of administrative experiences under thewatchful eye of uncle Floyd and Eleanor gained business experience as an executive secretary with the Ford Motor Company.Barely two years had passed however, when Starr acquired the Beckman estate in 1951. As he admitted later, he bought the property in part with theLangley’s in mind. With his own protégé in charge and Eleanor a highly capable assistant, Starr was confident that he had at hand the ideal administrators for the Ohio Branch. Of supreme importance, in Gordon he knew he had found the most suitable person to succeed him as president of the Starr Commonwealth.
So far as the Van Wert project was concerned, Starr was right in his prognosis. Almost within days after theLangley’s took over, the early misgivings in the community vanished. “Mr. L.,” as the boys soon called Gordon, was an apt pupil of Floyd Starr. Long before his young charges invaded the campus, he was in and about town speaking to service clubs, chatting with youth groups, and talking with church organizations. Everywhere he preached the doctrine of the 1913 Creed and the methods of his Mentor.
The Starr branch did grow. According to Starr, “Gordon could raise money hand over fist,” and his wife Eleanor was at least as effective. Between them and the field secretary, within some three years they had gatheredsufficient donor support to erect a second cottage. Both Starr and the Langley’sbelieved in a policy of consistent growth whenever feasible. This soon led to constructionof a third cottage, raising enrollment to 32.
In retrospect one can only marvel at the accomplishment of Gordon Langley during those formative years at the Ohio Branch. With Eleanor, he established aninstitution which has lifted scores of Ohio youth out of the morass of frustration and failure onto the highroad to self-esteem and success. At the same time he did not neglect his adopted community.Somehow he found time for holding offices in the Rotary Club, joining the Masons, taking part in the Civic Theater, serving various posts in the Methodist Church, and conduction the regional United Fund campaign. Indeed, he was so active that in 1956 he received the Junior Chamber of Commerce Award as the “Outstanding young Man of Wan Wert county.” Perhaps the most remarkable achievement in those busy years was earning his Master’s degree in Social Work at Ohio State University between 1957 and 1959.
Then in 1964 Gordon Langley made a quick visit to the Albion campus. Learning that UncleFloyd was away for the day, Gordon asked Mrs. Erwin Mason to tell Starr that he was to have an exploratory operation on his throat the following day. As soon as Mrs. Mason toll Starr about Gordon’s ‘little tumor’ he did more than worry. “I got in a car,” he recalled, “went down there to Van Wert and asked Eleanor if it was malignant. She didn’t know yet, so we waited together. When the report finallycame, we were told the tumor was malignant and he must have it removed right away.”
As the Starr boys might say, cancer isn’t a fair fighter. It strikes without warning, it evades confrontation, it plays foul all the way. Gordon was not asmoker, he had passed stringent military examinations, he was a good fifth man on a basketball team. Yet the biopsy had reveled unmistakable cancer of the larynx.
The larynx was removed, only to reveal a greater depth to the cancer. Despite every effort, the disturbed cells ran rampant throughout his body. As Starr later described the turn of events, “About the fourth day after the operation, something gave way and Gordon was dead.”
As Gordon requested, his body was cremated and the ashes interred on the Ohio campus ha had grown to love. On Friday evening, June 12, 1964, Dr. Paul Chiles, pastor of the First Methodist Church in Van Wert, conducted a memorial service for the family. The minister had known Gordon well, for he had long been a mainstay of the church choir and was a former superintendent of the Sunday School.
Two days later Rev. Chiles officiated at the outdoor “Memorial Program” for Langley’s many friends and associates. With Uncle Floyd from Albion came the Starr Boys Choir and Rev. H. Austin Pellett, the school chaplain. In his “remarks,” an eighty-one-year-old Starr still spoke of triumphantliving. “To me,” he asserted, “Gordon is not dead, nor will he ever die. He lives in these buildings about you, in these flowers whose beauty he shared. So long as we see his smile, hear his voice, Gordon lives.”
Source: Keith Fennimore. Faith Made Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan: Starr Commonwealth. 1988.