Albion Interactive History / People / Marshall Starr

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / People / Starr Commonwealth

Marshall Horace Starr
Father of Floyd Starr


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Schoolhouse, Starr Commonwealth, 1915

Horace Starr established his family on a farm near Oberlin, Ohio in 1853. There his only son, Marshall Horace Starr, took his new bride, Mary Root, and there the young couple first set up. As the family expanded , it outgrew the modestfarmstead, and Marshall migrated to “the Abraham Powers place” outside the rural community of Decatur, Michigan. ThereFloyd Elliott Starr was born May 1, 1883.

With the arrival of Floyd, the Starr covey of children numbered five. Of these, only three lived to adulthood. Ethel, apparently a precocious child, died in her mother’s arms fromdiphtheria at the age of three. Her death dealt a severe blow to the parents, for they had made no effort to disguise her position as the favorite child. The death of herinfant brother Wayte left another deep scar on the family, especially on Mary the mother. When the year-old infant contracted a severe laryngitis, it was Mary who had rolled a paper funnel and blown the medicine “according to directions” down the baby’s throat. Wayte died within hours. According to later analysis, the dosage “was strong enough to have caused the death of an adult.”

Marshall Horace Starr remained something of an enigma to his son Floyd. Marshall was an improvident man whose sudden moves in location and vocation ultimately brought the family to near poverty.The Marshall Starr family moved first from the Powers farmstead to another farm nearby, then made a long move toBenton Harbor, Michigan, and the construction business. Whenever the construction business lagged, Marshall Starr worked on his own house, only to lose it to creditors. With no other option, the family had to move into Grandmother Starr’s splendid house withits immaculate grounds and stable of horses. For good reasons, Mary Starr and Floyd both disliked the woman, and their stay at her home could only be described as being wretched.

Marshall Starr’s health began to fail and the death of Mary’s parents gave her possession of the Root family farm five miles southwest of Marshall, Michigan. At long last, the little family trekked east to independence. Shortly after the divorce of Floyd and Mary, to lose a daughter-in-law was bad enough, but to lose the campus housekeeper proved catastrophic. Now in her mid-seventies, Grandma Starr was simply not able to manage the Commonwealth household. Finally recognizing his mother’s predicament, Starr sent her to Bradenton, Florida, to spend the winter of 1919-20. Apparently it was a case of too little too late, for she developed serious heart problems from which she never recovered. After two yearsof semi-invalidism at Gladsome, she died on Marsh 20, 1922, at the age of 77.Following a private funeral service, she was buried in her family plot at the OakridgeCemetery outside Marshall. As her obituary noted, except for the brief sojourn in Florida, “practically all her life had been spent in Calhoun County.”

After the death of his wife, Marshall Starr admitted that he was weary of “beans and boys.” Never an enthusiastic farmer or a dedicated reformer, he began looking for other interests. Though loath to lose his handyman, Starr persuaded his friend Bernarr MacFadden tofind a place for his father on the Healthitorium staff in Chicago. After some four years, possibly distressed again by his old pulmonary problems, Marshall Starr returned to theCommonwealth and moved into his own room at the recently constructed Hillsidecommissary.

In March 1925, Floyd Starr returned to Ft. Worth. There his brother Perry, justly proud of Floyd’s achievements, had arranged for him to speak at a banquet on behalf of the school. After the program the two men went back to Perry’s house, where his wife Zona awaited them with two packed bags and two train tickets to Battle Creek, Earlier that evening she had received word that their father had suffered “a severe stroke of paralysis” and was not expected to live long.

“Thanks to Zona’s foresight,” Starr said later, “we did get back to campus before our father died. He was awake but couldn’t move – he couldn’t speak. Iknow he recognized me, and Perry also spoke to him. Our sister Mattie was there too. There was little we could do, and Father lived less than 24 hours.” On March 11, 1925, there was another private service at the Commonwealth, then Marshall Horace Starr was laid to rest beside his wife in the Marshall cemetery.

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

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