Albion Interactive History / People / David Starr

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / People / Starr Commonwealth

David Starr
Adopted Son of Floyd Starr


Albion College Graduate
Class of 1935

The early Commonwealth did harbor wards of the court. Homeless for a variety of reasons, the youngsters came as children and left as adolescents. Perhaps thinking to hedge his bet with posterity, Starr selected two of these boys to whom he offered name and care.

William Leach was the first that Floyd adopted. After a following out with him he adopted another. The other boy waseverything Stanley Starr was not. Born in 1911 in Benzonia, Michigan, Walter Ames Possessed akeen mind and high ambitions. Renamed Walter David Starr when he first entered the household, he soon dropped the original first name and went by David Starr thereafter.

As Floyd admitted years later, “I was a busy man in those early years and I probably should never have taken on two youngsters pretty much by myself. Maybe Stanley felt neglected – I don’t know. Anyway, after he left I hired a housekeeper to take care of my son David and myself. Aunt Addie was anreconstruction southerner, but she became a real mother to my son.”

Quite by coincidence, that venerable lady also became a prime contributor toward the close relationship which soon developed between father and son. In Starr’s words, “Aunt Addie had a beautiful home on Lake Michigan near Saugatuck, where David and I had many happy times.” During the boy’s adolescent years, Dumblehaven was one of the few spots where Starr could get away from school cares, romp with his son, and be a real dad.

Much as Starr enjoyed the companionship of his son during vacations, his satisfaction was even greater when he observed David during his school years. With mounting expectations, he followed his son’s progress from the Commonwealth classrooms into Albion High School. There David pursued many of the social studies which Floyd Starr had found so provocative.

In June 1931, David graduated from high school and a young lady Elta Arber completed her course of study at Albion College. While a senior sociology major, she hadserved ably as a student assistant to Dr. Frank Carlton, Floyd Starr’s mentor of some thirty years ago. Upon Carlton’s recommendation, Starr hired Miss Arber as a fledgling field secretary. “That wasthe start of my undoing,” Starr used a joke with her in later years; and indeed there soon were developments unseen by anyone at the time.

The next four years were busy ones for both young people. In Elta, Starr found aworker after his own heart – resourceful, efficient, persistent. In mere months she absorbed much of the rich Detroit territory, where she worked closelywith him on major fund-raising projects.

In David, Albion College soon discovered a top-flight student. Like his father, he pledged the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and served in several chapter offices. According to the 1935Albionian, David also worked on the staff of the college paper and participated in the Contributors Club. Despite occasional business trips with his father, he graduated cum laude with the class of 1935.

During those same four years, the friendship between David and Elta burgeoned intolove. On June 5, the day after Commencement, “Miss Elta Arber, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Dietrich Arber of Detroit, became the bride of David Starr… at a wedding performed at the Gladsome Cottage at the Commonwealth. Dean W.W. Whitehouse of Albion College read the ceremony.” Following dinner at Reynolds Cottage, “Mr. and Mrs. Starr left for a month’s trip through Canada and the east.

During graduate studies in sociology at Princeton University, David became intrigued by the intricacies of business law, matriculated in the Detroit College of Law, and received his Doctor ofJurisprudence in 1942. After serving the next four years as lieutenant in the United States Navy, he settled inCalifornia with his wife and their two children, Sylvia and David Jr. Although he was an active member of the Board of Trustees over the next fortyyears, David never returned as the heir apparent to the presidency of the Starr Commonwealth. “Naturally I was disappointed,” Starr admitted, “but it was David’s decision to make, not mine.”

By 1976, David began making plans for his future. He withdrew from the Ford Motor Company, took up hisnotes for a biography of his father, and prepared for an active retirement. It was not to be. Later that year the unmistakable signs of an intestinal malignancy appeared, and David entered Kaiser Hospital in Long Beach, California. An exploratory operation revealed the cancer had spread extensively, and the surgeons held faint hope for his recovery. His father was not daunted. After all, the power of prayer had built his young campus, healed a boy’s gunshot wound, and saved Henry Candler from untimely death.

As the weeks and months passed by however, neither prayer or surgery availed. In mid-May 1977, David Starr died. Determined that his son’s memory should live on at the Commonwealth, his father sent pleas to his friends of the school for contributions to build a memorial garden on the hillside near Gladsome Cottage.The response was most gratifying. Within months he wrote Elta, “The stone has been placed in David’s garden. A bronzeplaque will be screwed to the stone when the weather gets a bit warmer. Mr. Ness assured me the garden will be finished in early spring. It will be a very beautiful spot.”

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