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Floyd Starr : Starr Commonwealth
1913 | Albion, Michigan
Floyd Elliot Starr was born May 1, 1883 to Marshall and Mary Root Starr in Decatur, Michigan. By the time young Floyd was enrolled in elementary school his family had inherited his grandmother Root’s farm near Marshall, Michigan where young Floyd completed his schooling. Once, when family friends Dr. and Mrs. John Harvey Kellog were visiting, nine year old Floyd overhead the mention of adoption. Later, quizzing his mother as to what “adoption” meant, Floyd announced that when he was grown-up he was going to buy a farm and adopt 50 boys. Excelling in high school forensics and debate, Floyd was hired by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union following graduation to travel across the United States making impassioned speeches on the evils of alcohol and smoking. He later took a job with the physical culturist Bernarr MacFadden as his secretary. The position entailed traveling, arranging exhibitions, advertising and in general, managing the career of MacFadden. The skills honed during these years would serve him well in his future undertakings.
Returning to Marshall in 1906 he matriculated at nearby Albion College where, in a sociology class, he made the brash assertion that “there is no such thing as a bad boy.” A member and later national president of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, Floyd Starr graduated with an A.B. degree in 1910. Shortly after graduation he married his college sweetheart Harriet Armstrong. The newlyweds took a position at a settlement house in St. Louis and later an Assistant Director position lured Floyd to the Beulah Home for Boys in Boyne City, Michigan. After taking the position the Director was involved in a scandal and Floyd became the de facto Director. Beulah soon closed and 50 boys were left needing a home. Starr would make a decision that day that would change the face of American social work forever.
In 1913, with the help of his father and the aid of a legacy left by an Aunt, Floyd Starr purchased a 40 acre farm on the shores of Montcalm Lake just west of Albion, Michigan. The house had burned leaving a bare foundation, so Floyd and his first two homeless boys slept in the old barn while a cottage was constructed. The cottage was called “Gladsome” because that was how Starr felt about the beginning of his life’s work. Around the kitchen table in that cottage Starr would pen the famous Starr Commonwealth Creed, a statement of his beliefs about the fundamental nature of boys and a revolutionary approach to the treatment of so-called “badness.”
The crackpot idea of Starr Commonwealth, a character rebuilding institution built on love not bars, began to take shape and earn the respect of judges and juvenile authorities across the State of Michigan. Starr himself was a tireless advocate for boys and would spend the next 54 years at the helm of an ever-burgeoning institution. As news of the success of Starr Commonwealth spread it began to attract many famous celebrities. Among the famous guests at Starr were Sir Rabindranath Tagore, Madame Pandit, George Washington Carver, Carl Sandburg, Admiral Byrd, Jesse Owens, Helen Keller, Roy Rogers, Maya Angelou, Alex Haley, Muhhamed Ali, Joan Crawford, Diego Rivera, Art Linkletter, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Ruth Bryan Rhode, Joy Adamson, Dorothy Maynor, Henry Winkler, Marlee Matlin and many, many other famous and talented personalities.
In the 1950's Floyd Starr recognized that a significant number of his new charges were coming from Ohio. In response, and with the help of one of his field secretaries, arrangements were made to purchase a property west of Van Wert, Ohio known as "Auglaise Gardens." The property belonged to Mr. Harry Beckmann the "Peony King of the Midwest." The estate featured a handsome gatehouse and a magnificent Old English house later partially converted to a chapel. As the realization of a long-held dream, Floyd Starr named a former Starr boy Gordon Langley as the first director of the Ohio branch of Starr Commonwealth.
Due to advancing age and near-total deafness, Floyd Starr retired as President Emeritus of Starr Commonwealth in 1967 at the age of 84. He continued to live on at his home, Candler Hall, on the Albion Campus where he engaged with young people and offered advice to his successor and Board of Directors. He died in 1980 at the age of 97 and is buried above the Great Cross on a hill behind the Chapel-in-the-Woods at Starr Commonwealth, Albion, Michigan. The campus at Albion that he conceived with the help of talented landscape architects and building designers and the thousands of trees, bulbs and grasses that he and his early boys planted have culminated in a spot of rare beauty in America. So striking is the setting and the scope of Starr's work at Albion that the campus has been named a Michigan State historic site. His dictum "beauty is a silent teacher" pervades the 350 acres. In addition to the Albion campus, Starr operates campuses in Battle Creek, Detroit, Van Wert and Columbus, Ohio.
Floyd Starr is remembered today as the man who insisted that “there is no such thing as a bad boy.” His treatment philosophy based upon love, respect and the inherent goodness of mankind is still studied today and his crackpot school, Starr Commonwealth, now over 99 years old, is flourishing and expanding, providing help and healing to over 6,000 children and families each year.
Original Starr Commonwealth Creed
1913 | Albion, Michigan
Starr Commonwealth Creed
WE BELIEVE that there is no such thing as a bad boy.
WE BELIEVE that badness is not a normal condition but is
the result of misdirected energy.
WE BELIEVE that every normal boy will be good if given an opportunity in an
environment of love and activity.
WE BELIEVE in the dignity of labor. We believe that each child should be
given some work suitable to childhood and that he should be
taught that the value of labor is to be found, not alone in the
completed task, but in the training of the mind and the hand,
and in the joy of accomplishment.
WE BELIEVE also in play. Play is the child’s normal means of self-expression.
WE BELIEVE that to attain the full stature of man, spiritual development
should go hand-in-hand with physical, mental and moral
WE BELIEVE that boys should be treated, not as a class, but as individuals,
and that each boy in order that he may reach his highest
development, must be understood. We hold that his ambition
must be stimulated and developed, and that he must be
encouraged and loved toward perfection.
WE BELIEVE that boys merit confidence and trust, and that the secret of the
development of honor in a boy lies in appealing to his inherent
goodness. In order that he may attain perfect manhood, we
believe in placing a boy on his honor at all times giving him the
sympathy and encouragement necessary to enable him to
maintain his integrity.
Written by Floyd Starr in 1913
This I Believe, by Floyd Starr
Broadcast circa 1954 | Nationwide
From Edward R. Murrow’s “This I Believe: Essays on Belief” a radio program of essays by prominent persons
This I Believe by Floyd Starr, Founder of Starr Commonwealth for Boys
Broadcast in the 1950’s
Examining my beliefs set me to scrutinizing my heritage. My parents made God real to me as the creator who saw everything He had made and called it good. So when I wrote the creed of Starr Commonwealth in 1913, it began, “There is no such thing as a bad boy.”
Today, I believe in the inherent goodness of all people. I am convinced that the eventual coming of universal brotherhood is a natural corollary.
My mother taught me to find beauty in the endless colors and patterns of creation. She read aloud the Sermon on the Mount. Even before I understood its meaning, its majesty and music made me happy and certain. I had a powerful friend who left me the rules of the road, so I needn’t be afraid. If love is the greatest thing in the world, it can conquer all lesser forces, I reasoned.
How often since, I have seen the healing these assurances have brought to lonely, disturbed boys with whom I’ve worked for four decades. I was told that an American boy could accomplish whatever he desired if he worked hard, stuck to it, and did some contriving, especially if he kept the good of others in mind.
My mother was Dutch—loving but uncompromising. “It is good to do hard things,” she said. “Overcoming builds strength and brings satisfaction. Next time, the job is easier. Play is important, too. But if you love the doing, the line between is thin.” I’m a firm believer that conviction translated into performance is convincing proof of one’s premise. I believe the place to begin is the nearest need; the time, now; the motive, service; the method, cooperation.
I believe that there is no limit to the appreciations one can cultivate, each making its contribution to the exciting business of living. Then suddenly—as if a great light played on something that had been there all the time—I recalled the words, the good of others. I believe implicitly in youth, in its infinite promise, its malleability, and its longing to be good if shown how. To such children, the love of God is just another step.
I believe much is learned from failure, for failure—though rough and delaying—is merely a detour that portends a safer and more direct highway. I believe that sorrow deepens understanding—I can better say, I know. I believe in happiness, a byproduct of that inner peace, which is won through faith, prayer, trial and error, and the single sighted compass of altruistic intent.
1968 | Albion, Michigan
In 1968 Floyd Starr wrote a brief essay for each tenet of the Starr Commonwealth Creed for inclusion in the book "No Such Thing". The following essay accompanied the second tenet of the creed:
that badness is not a normal condition but is the result of misdirected energy
There is a bit of free verse which I like to read to my boys: I wish I knew its author. The scene: an outlying border state, sometimes called the dark and bloody ground. The date: February 12, 1809.
"A squatted village set in wintry mud, a hub-deep oxcart slowly groans and creeps. A horseman hails and halts, he shifts his cud and speaks: Well, didya hear? Tom Lincoln's wife today-the devil's luck for folks as poor as they.
Poor Tom, poor Nance, poor youngun born without a chance.
A baby in that God-forsaken bin, that worse than cattle bin. Well, what are they but cattle? Cattle? Tush, a critter is beef, hides and tallow. But who'd swap one for the critters of that hut?
White trash, small fry, whose only instincts are to multiply. They're good at that, and so, today God wrought another brat. Another squawking, squalling good-for-naught spilled on the world Heaven only knows for what.
Good God, it makes me gag, this human spawn born for the world to wipe its feet upon a few years hence.
But now more helpless than the litter of a sow.
Oh, well, send the women folk to see Nance, poor little devil born without a chance."
Born without a chance?
Born into poverty, yes...poverty of the direst sort. Born into a heritage of "white trash" degree. Born into a war that was to split the nation to its core. Born into problems never seen before....
Born into the love of a wise and a good Mother. There, as Abraham Lincoln so often said, lay the secret to his goodness...his success.
And there....in the mother, in the parents...lies the secret and the key to our problem of delinquency today.
It's all well and good to blame the slums, to blame the war, to blame our schools, our churches, or depression or inflation, or whatever condition is uppermost at the time. Surely, they all play a tremendous part in the growth and lives of children. But, greater than any of these is the responsibility of the parent to the child.
Poverty a boy can take. Poor school teachers he can survive. Streetgangs he can meet and let alone. Wars, diseases, stresses and strains of all kinds he can ride out IF he knows the security of the love of a good father or mother.
"Born without a chance? White trash. Small fry?" Yet, one such was born to be president of our United States.
Here's How By Who's Who
1967 | Albion, Michigan
Some years ago a number of prominent and successful leaders who were listed in Who’s Who in America were asked to give their counsel to youth for publication in a book entitled Here's How by Who's Who. Together with distinguished Americans such as General Douglas MacArthur, Senator Everett Dirksen, The Reverend Doctor Norman Vincent Peale and two former Presidents of the United States, Floyd Starr shared these thoughts:
DIG DEEP. Every boy given the right environment will grow.
Sometimes the rubble of wrong thinking and wrong doing
buries that good, but in digging deep you will find it.
In others. In yourself.
STAND TALL. You may go further than you think. You may feel
that a job is too big or too small; no matter – do it with a will,
for any job well done leads to a better one.
PICK YOURSELF UP. Most of us are afraid to fail, but the big
difference between failure and success is that failure quits. Success
never does. When it stumbles, success picks itself up and starts all
PICK A HERO. Everyone needs a hero to look up to, but pick
yours carefully whoever he is. Select the kind of person you wish to be
when you are grown, for most likely you will come to have some of the
qualities of those you admire.
NEVER KILL TIME. Knowledge is long time is short. Life is
made up of precious minutes, make those minutes count. When you
work, work with a will. When you study, study as if your life depends
upon it, for it may. And when you play, play with joy.
STAND PROUD. Honor your creator, honor your parents and
honor your country. Everything you are and everything you will be
you owe to them.