A TRUE, GRITTY STARR
Having just returned from a road trip where my wife and I revisited the orphanage where I once lived in Ukiah, I choked up reading the article about Kevin Starr. My younger brother Michael Hankal ’61 and I spent six years at the “home” you mentioned, along with Kevin and other wards of the juvenile court.
Our mother died young—at age 36. Our father, who only had a sixth-grade education, couldn’t handle the stress of raising us and took to the bottle. He dropped us off when I was 8 years old and Mike was 6, and we had very little contact thereafter. In 1951, a single 48-year-old public accountant from Modesto named Helen Souders sent two jackets to the school for the boys who needed them most—us. As head of the Catholic Daughters, she decided to drive up and see the boys who received the jackets. This connection led to her becoming our legal guardian. In Modesto we got in trouble at first, but she never gave up on us. We later moved to San Jose, where she took a job and got us enrolled at Bellarmine College Prep and then at SCU as well. We worked numerous jobs to help pay the tuition at both schools.
But back to Kevin and the home: The facility was run by Dominican nuns, but discipline was delegated to lay prefects who enforced the regimented rules. Older boys became “captains” of the dorms and dining area in order to curry favor with the prefects. There was considerable bullying as a result. I eventually became a captain and gave as bad as I got. Kevin was an easy mark as he was very bookish, and I pulled a prank on him that I forgot about until he reminded me many years later.
About ten years ago, Kevin was giving a lecture at Stanislaus State. Having read his books and seen him on PBS, I was anxious to reconnect with him. After the lecture, I met Kevin and his wife Sheila, and when he recognized me he told Sheila about the prank: that I was the mean guy who peed on him when he was trying to climb a tree with the other boys. What a sad reunion for me, but soon we talked about our mutual experiences at the orphanage—which is now a Buddhist university! Kevin invited me to visit him in San Francisco, but regrettably I never did.
Rest in Peace, Kevin—we overcame with true grit and help from others.
James C. Hankal ’59