Thurman James (“T.J.”) Starker was born July 14, 1890, in Grenola, Kansas. His family moved to Burlington, Iowa, when he was a young boy, and he attended public schools there until his senior year. His father, a contractor, visited the Alaska Pacific Exposition in 1905 and liked the looks of Portland so much that they moved there as soon as he could wind up his affairs in Iowa. T.J. graduated from The Portland High School in 1908, the only Portland secondary school at the time. In the fall of 1908, T.J. entered Oregon Agricultural College as a sophomore, as did four-year high school graduates at that time. He received his BS in 1910 in the first graduating class in forestry, numbering four students. During his college years, summers were spent working with the U.S. Forest Service. T.J. went on to the University of Michigan for graduate work and received his MSF in 1912. His hand-written diploma from Michigan hung for many years in his study among his prized possessions. Upon completion of his college work, T.J. went back to work for the U.S. Forest Service for nine years, planting trees at the start and gradually advancing to become Forest Examiner for Oregon and Washington in 1917.
Margaret Ostrandernwas born in Kingsley, Kansas, on March 2, 1888. When she was quite young, her family of seven moved to Portland where her father worked for timber and wheat interests in determining railroad rates for shipping. He later served as the Oregon Utility Commissioner. Margaret attended public schools in Portland and graduated from Portland High School in 1908. T.J. transferred to Portland High School in 1907, and was assigned a seat immediately in front of Margaret. The couple became high school sweethearts. From 1908 to 1914 Margaret taught in the Portland Public Schools in the St. John’s District.
On June 30, 1914, T.J. and Margaret were married in Portland. Their first home was a railroad car which was moved from place to place in Eastern Oregon as T.J.’s work in the woods around Sumpter determined. During their time in Eastern Oregon, Margaret taught school in Sumpter. Around 1916 the Starkers were moved to the Portland District Headquarters of the U.S. Forest Service. Their two children were born in Portland, Bruce in 1918 and Jean Roth in 1920. The family moved to Corvallis in 1922 when T.J. joined the teaching staff at Oregon Agricultural College. When the Starkers moved to Corvallis their first home was in the Twelfth Street Apartments, but within the year they built their own home at Twenty-third and Van Buren. Dirt roads with mud eighteen inches deep in this area prompted friends to ask why he would build in that swamp. Walking to and from classes was often more expedient than driving through the quagmire. T.J. soon petitioned to have Van Buren Street paved.
For twenty years T.J. taught Forest Management at OAC and was known affectionately as “The Prof.” It was a great joy for him to know that many of the men he taught later held good positions all over the world. He once recalled with a touch of pride that at one time half of all the forest supervisors in Oregon and Washington were his former students. At the start of his teaching days, Avery Woods was used for forest laboratory work. With Charlie Whiteside, he negotiated for and advanced the option money necessary to tie up the land for a park purchase by the city. Around 1930, T.J. spearheaded a fund which led to the establishment of McDonald Forest, which has since served as the research forest for Oregon State University. His efforts convinced the Board of Regents that the forestry students needed a lab and Dean Peavy contacted Mrs. McDonald, who donated funds for the purchase of the forest named in her husband’s honor.
The arboretum behind Moreland Hall, the old Forestry Building at Twenty-sixth and Jefferson, was planted by T.J.; he and a friend, “Midge” Allen, OSU Forestry class of 1917, moved in the “Big Wheels” which were in back until they were moved to Horner Museum. He took one sabbatical leave shortly thereafter and taught at Penn State for one year.
Summer vacations found T.J. back with the U.S. Forest Service or building houses around town in the Cedarhurst area. One time T.J. built what he calls a “thirty-day wonder house”—designed, built, and occupied in a month’s time when they had sold their former home with an early-occupancy clause.
T.J. began to look at timber in the early thirties and made his first purchase on the north side of Mary’s Peak in 1936. He continued to buy timber land around the state, sometimes trading to consolidate holdings and selling the timber to “gyppos” (individual logging contractors). In 1942 he asked for extended leave from Oregon State College to manage his forest property and an ornamental nursery he had purchased.
The majority of the land owned by Starker Forests is in Benton County, with smaller holdings in five counties in Northwest Oregon. T.J. worked with his son, Bruce, acquiring additional forest lands and developing both commercial and residential property around Corvallis. Peak Plywood, a veneer manufacturing company on Reservoir Road, was another Starker venture.
In 1971, T.J. formed a formal partnership, called Starker Forests, with son Bruce, Bruce’s wife Betty, and their two sons, Bond and Barte. Bruce had managed their organization after T.J.’s semi-retirement in 1968, and continued to do so until Bruce’s tragic death in a 1975 plane crash. Bond, the eldest of T.J.’s grandsons, was named managing partner. In 1981 the partnership was changed to a corporation, with T.J. as chairman of the board, Bond as president, Barte as executive vice president, and Betty as secretary.
T.J. was a citizen vitally concerned with community affairs and served in many capacities. He was a member of the Planning Commission, the Corvallis school board from 1936 to 1943, the draft board for three terms, and the 4-H Foundation board of directors. He was chosen as “The Benton County First Citizen” by the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce in 1952, largely due to his fundraising to insure the continuation of Good Samaritan Hospital. In 1977, he was made an honorary life member of the Chamber. T.J. received a forty-five-year pin from the Corvallis Lions Club and worked on their project of planting pine trees along highways leading into the city. He was an active member of the First Congregational Church and was actively involved in the construction of the church on West Hills Road. He served as agent of the church from 1964 to 1980. He served on the board of directors of the Oregon Roadside Council, and on the Benton County Park board from 1951 to 1975. A member of Corvallis Men’s Garden Club, he served as their auctioneer for fund-raising sales. His interest in Oregon State University led him to serve as trustee for the OSU Foundation. He was honored as a Most Distinguished Member of the OSU Foundation. T.J. acted as faculty advisor to his social fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, for twenty-five years. He remained a loyal Beaver fan, attending all home games. Professional interests continued to occupy much of T.J.’s time. He served as a member of the State Board of Forestry from 1962 to 1970. He was on the board of directors of the Industrial Forestry Association of the Northwest and a member of Zi Sigma Pi, the forestry honorary. He contributed numerous articles to the forestry journals. In 1968 the Portland Chamber of Commerce named him as runner-up for their “Tree Farmer of the Year” award.
Margaret was active in the OAC Women’s Folk Club, serving as both secretary and president. She was a charter member of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Good Samaritan Hospital, and was active in the Congregational Church. Her hobbies centered around her home and included needlework and knitting. She was often seen driving around Corvallis in her “surrey with the fringe on top,” as she called her little electric-powered cart in which she traveled. She didn’t like the speed and noise of automobiles, and the quiet seven mile per hour rate of travel in her open surrey was conducive to friendly chatting along the way. Her daughter says that she was a very flexible homemaker and cheerful in all circumstances. Her greatest interest was always her children, and her six grandchildren were her pride and joy.
The T.J. Starkers celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1963. Margaret died in October 1964. After Margaret’s death, T.J. lived alone at 634 Southwest Fifty-Fourth Street, but spent most evenings with his children’s families and friends. A summer hobby was raising sweet corn and grapes to share with his many friends.
T.J. remained an active and concerned citizen until his death on March 10, 1983. His frequent letters to the editor in the Corvallis Gazette-Times underscored his continuing concern for his community. T.J. once said he had three G-hobbies: grandchildren (six of them); growing corn; and the Gazette-Times “readertorials.” T.J. Starker’s intelligence, humor, and vitality distinguished him as a remarkable man—truly a first citizen of Corvallis. In 1971, Oregon State University presented T.J. with a distinguished service award. The Oregon State Legislature posthumously passed a memorial resolution honoring the lifetime contributions of T.J. Starker in appreciation for his many civic activities and his service to the forest industry in Oregon.
When T.J. died March 10, 1983, he left a legacy of 52,000 acres of Starker Forests, wisely managed with concern for both present productivity and future conservation. He passed on his fervent belief in wise timber management to his son Bruce, whose sons Bond and Barte continued running the company in the family tradition.