Bruce Starker was born in Portland, Oregon on March 4, 1918 to T.J. and Margaret O. Starker. Bruce’s grandfather had moved the family west in 1907 after visiting the Portland Exposition. When T.J. joined the faculty in Forest Management at Oregon Agricultural College the family moved to the Corvallis area. Bruce was just four years old at the time, but the name, “Starker,” soon became synonymous with expertise in the wise and careful management of timber resources.
Bruce attended Harding Grade School, Corvallis Junior High (then located in Central Park), and graduated in 1936 from Corvallis High School in the first graduating class from the new high school on Buchanan Street.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Bruce Starker entered the School of Forestry at Oregon State College. His father was still a faculty member at the college, and Bruce had early on caught the spark of enthusiasm for the forest industry from T.J. Bruce earned his bachelor’s degree in 1940 and went on to Yale for a master’s degree in forest management, which he received in 1941. Bruce evaluated timber for the estate of E.E. Collins for a short time before World War II.
Early in 1942 Bruce enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and went to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, for officers training. As skipper of a submarine chaser, he spent two years in Brazil training Brazilian officers in anti-submarine warfare and commanded a sub chaser based in Rio de Janeiro. Subsequently he was transferred to Coast Guard transport duty on ships bringing men home from the Orient.
Following his release from active service in 1946, he returned home to Corvallis and married Betty Bond, whom he had met at Corvallis High School ten years earlier. The couple had two sons: Bond, born in 1947, and Barte, born in 1950. Their first home was on West Hills Road, where they lived for several years before moving to the west end of Van Buren Street. In 1961 they built a spacious home on Philomath Boulevard, which now serves as the offices of Starker Forests.
Using his money from four years in the service, Bruce purchased his first piece of land for tree farming, the Eisele place near Blodgett. He set about acquiring more timber land which, with his father, became consolidated as Starker Forests in 1971. Bruce managed the partnership, which consisted of T.J., Bruce, his wife Betty, and his sons Bond and Barte.
As general manager of Starker Forests, he was responsible for more than 50,000 acres of timber: husbandry, planting, brush control, timber sales, supervising extraction, improving timber, and thinning. Bruce was elected chairman of the Oregon-Washington Reforestation Council, of which he was a founding member. The organization consisted of both government and industry representatives who, like Bruce, were dedicated to promoting further forest research by agencies as well as landowners. In 1972 Bruce was instrumental in setting up a landmark project to compare intercompany research results for the Pacific Northwest reforestation effort. That same year, Governor Tom McCall asked Bruce to serve on the Northwest Oregon Forest Practices Committee.He was also responsible for getting the Forest Practices Act passed, which promised to maintain healthy and reforested timber lands.
Bruce was a member and Trustee of Western Forestry and Conservation Association, and active in their Silvicultural and Reforestation Councils. He was Benton County Chairman of Keep Oregon Green. He served as a trustee of the Oregon Forest Protection Association and held membership in the Society of American Foresters and Xi Sigma Phi, Forestry honorary.
Bruce was also a concerned and active citizen of his community, serving several organizations. As a youngster he had been active in the Boy Scouts, which he continued to support later in life. He served on the United Fund Board and Budget Committee, was an enthusiastic member of the OSU Beaver Club, and worked frequently with the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce.
The Starker family made a practice of playing as well as working together. Bruce, Betty and the boys learned to scuba dive right in their own indoor swimming pool, and this sport prompted them to travel far from home to enjoy diving in Guaymos, Mexico, Hawaii, and Tahiti. A charter sailboat trip from Martinique to Grenada in 1967 included diving as well as sightseeing.
An adventuresome lot, the entire family also took to the skies. It all started one day when clamming was good at the beach, but they were too busy to take off for several days. As a matter of expediency, they rented a plane and were flown over to clam and back home in just a few hours. This trip inspired Betty to start flying lessons at Corvallis Airport, and Bruce soon decided to join her. He found it an excellent way to pursue one of his other favorite hobbies, photography. Barte and Bond also flew some in the four-passenger Cherokee they owned.
Bruce found that flying served as an efficient way to survey their forest lands and soon began to use their plane more for business than for pleasure. It was on one of these scouting trips that a tragic crash claimed Bruce’s life. On July 27, 1975, Bruce and Bond were inspecting timber prospects and Starker holdings in Polk County. Their plane crashed, and it was missing for two days. A skydivers’ club from Sheridan, Oregon, joined the search, having heard an emergency locating beacon. They found Bond still alive, barely, having suffered severe hypothermia from the unusually cold weather.
Bond now runs the 61,000 acres of timberland, as well as the other property interests of Starker Forests. Barte passed away in December 2017. The World Forestry Center in Portland displays a plaque bearing a portrait of Bruce Starker, as well as the following brief tribute:
Throughout his career as a forester, Starker’s main interest was forest management, which to him meant the maintenance of perpetual forests for both public and private use through reforestation and sound forest conservation practices…. Bruce Starker was an independent thinking, adventuresome man. Throughout his life he fostered a great respect for the land, a willingness to try new ways, and a desire to live life to its fullest.