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Stark Strong; for Marion, for Nathan, for cancer research

By Rod Lee

The imprint that Marion J. Stark left on her community and her family goes much deeper than the town seal she designed for Boylston, Massachusetts and the affection with which she was held by her grandson Nathan.

Marion died at the age of seventy-six on March 1st, 2016 after a ten-year struggle with endometrial cancer. Her life of accomplishment as a wife, mother, grandmother, artist, Sunday school teacher, gardener and all-around good person was what prompted Bill Stark of Auburn and his cousins Becky Stark and Deb Temple (Marion’s daughters) to field a team for last fall’s UMass Cancer Walk & Run.

Appropriately named “Stark Strong,” the team will participate in the 19th annual version of the event again for the second time on September 24th, as a gesture of support for dollars raised for cancer research, clinical trials and patient care. Members of the team include Bill Stark, Bill’s wife Donna, Bill’s sister Jody Stark-Cornetta, Becky Stark, Deb Temple, Deb’s husband Mike, Marion’s grandchildren Zachary, Devin and Jenna and Janet Wentzell and Janet’s daughter Carolyn who are longtime friends of the family; possibly some others too.

Missing in 2017 will be Becky’s son Nathan. Nathan, who took the loss of his grandmother hard (she passed on his birthday), regrettably died in April. He was just twenty-three with a stint as an Army medic in Korea behind him and aspirations to “be a doctor” ahead, as Becky Stark put it during a conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts on Southbridge St. in Auburn.

Nathan’s absence is already being felt (he was featured in a promotional video for the UMass Cancer Walk & Run) but this has only inspired the family to work harder. As of last week the Stark Strong team was No. 2 on the fundraising list for the Walk & Run behind “Tom’s Tribe” with $1370 despite having tapped just seven donors compared to the Tom’s Tribe team’s thirty-nine. Deb Temple had raised $865 of the Stark Strong team’s total.

The Stark Strong team’s tally far surpasses the amount it collected in 2016 and will likely climb higher with a benefit comedy show scheduled Saturday, July 15th at the Auburn Elks Lodge, 754 Southbridge St. Using his connections, Bill Stark, who works for Commerce Bank, has landed prominent local radio personalities Dave O’Gara, Frank Foley and Adam Webster of 104.5 WXLO, 100.1 The Pike and 98.9 Nash Icon as featured attractions for the evening. All proceeds from the comedy show go to the UMass Cancer Walk & Run, which has raised nearly $10 million in the eighteen years of its existence.

“Our Stark Strong family team is committed to supporting this nonprofit organization that brings groundbreaking research that changes the lives of cancer patients,” Mr. Stark said. “We are rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing we’re helping families facing the most difficult time, while at the same time joining a spirited community devoted to improving the health and well-being” of people in the Commonwealth and beyond, he said.

Tickets for the “Comedy for Cash” night are only $20 and may be purchased from Bill Stark by calling 508-868-0789. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. for raffles and a cash bar. The show starts at 7:00 p.m.

Becky Stark and Deb Temple said the family is thrilled to be involved with the Walk & Run. The UMass event began as a vision of the Manning family and close friend Bob Haynes and has evolved into the largest one-day single-location fundraising event in Central Massachusetts. The Manning’s lost son Danny Jr. to cancer in 1994. Two years later Dan Sr., Dottie Manning and Bob Haynes initiated the Walk & Run.

Like the Manning’s, “after our mom passed, we felt so helpless,” Marion’s daughters said (“Papa” Stark, Robert, the women’s father, survives). “We thought this would be a good thing to do so other families could benefit.”

Marion Stark’s story may not be significantly different than that of thousands of victims of cancer whose families carry on in memory of them. But it is unique to her. Originally from York Beach, Maine, Marion earned a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Maine. Active on many fronts until taken ill, she was a kindergarten aide, an art teacher, a police dispatcher for the town of Boylston and was “involved in a lot, Girl Scouts, the Garden Club,” her daughters said.

“She puts us to shame, could whip up a ten-course meal, was kind and caring,” Becky Stark said.

She was also a day-care provider for Nathan Stark when he was young, from which a lasting bond developed.

Though both are gone, neither is forgotten.

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.