Volume LVIIIAugust 2011Number 3

Bro. Jim Stark: A Modern-day Renaissance Man

When Bro. Jim Stark began his professional career, he walked up to a long, intimidating desk at Convair (an aerospace manufacturing company) and took a number, as if he was ordering meat at the deli.

When the man behind the desk called his number, he approached and learned that the man had attended Grove City College in Pennsylvania, like Bro. Stark - a matter of chance or a blessing from God, depending on your perspective, since the Convair office was in San Diego. After learning that Bro. Stark had strong technical skills from studying engineering, but a passion for management, the man sent him to the chief engineer. Following a series of interviews, Convair offered Bro. Stark a project management job.

Little did he know, the research and development team members who interviewed him were visionaries on the brink of a breakthrough. As such, one of Bro. Stark's first projects was the Atlas missile - the first American intercontinental ballistics missile, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead anywhere on Earth.

"The aerospace industry is a very fast-paced industry, and since I was technical, that's the industry I wanted to go into," Bro. Stark said. "The Atlas missile was a wonderful challenge because there were a lot of problems. ...

"Some of these problems really are not solvable because the equipment and technology are not available, so you need to identify who you need to work with to accomplish each project," Bro. Stark said. As a result, he worked with many interesting people. To best integrate the technology that developed during World War II into the Atlas missile, he even collaborated with men who had developed revolutionary German weapons.

"Something that starts out as one project results in a multitude of engineering breakthroughs ... one path leads to another path and so on," he explained.

Bro. Stark's life seemed to take a similar journey which started with a vision. With each passing experience, he explored a new road, sought additional challenges and gained knowledge that he had not anticipated needing earlier in his journey.

After graduating from Grove City College, he earned a Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Business Administration (MBA) and two Ph.D.s. He has taught graduate-level courses all over the world through five universities; has served as department chairman and dean for several universities; and has been awarded honors for his teaching. He has travelled and worked with high-ranking government and military figures to manage aerospace engineering projects through five businesses, and now owns his own consulting firm. While balancing a successful career, and even after retirement, he supported his beautiful wife; raised four children; traveled for pleasure; joined Pennsylvania Freemasonry, the California Scottish and York Rites and American Legion; remained true to his Christian faith; and volunteered his time and resources to support multiple non-profit organizations.

It all started in Pennsylvania ...

Bro. Stark grew up in Tarentum. His family proudly worked in the steel industry at Allegheny Ludlum, the first producers of stainless steel. His roots impacted the lifestyle he pursued and the person he became.

"My family was somewhat optimistic. They didn't feel any restrictions as far as being upwardly mobile. Everyone seemed somewhat ambitious, and education was a big thing," Bro. Stark said. His family valued setting goals and striving to achieve them.

No subject was too controversial to discuss at the dinner table with his parents and three sisters. "We talked about world affairs growing up. ... We were aware that if someone else had thoughts and ideas that you didn't share, you were sensitive to them and not afraid to discuss the differences," he said.

When Bro. Stark graduated from high school, he would have been drafted into the Army. Instead, he joined the Navy. "We went into the military because we recognized our obligation was to join the armed forces, and we were more or less happy to do that. We took our responsibility seriously," he said.

Bro. Stark never saw battle because World War II ended several months into his service. After two years, the Navy Fleet asked him to join the military as a career, but Bro. Stark had other aspirations. With the help of the G.I. Bill, he attended Grove City College to study engineering.

"I, like a lot of ex-military men, were in a hurry because we had a couple of years appropriated to the military, so we felt like we were a few years behind," he said.

In 1951, while attending Grove City, Bro. Stark joined the lodge that many of his family members belonged to - Pollock Lodge No. 502, Tarentum. "The Masonic fraternity is one of the oldest and largest in the world. It keeps a lot of us going," he said. "I've visited Masonic organizations all over the world - some of which speak English, and some don't. The state of Pennsylvania has such a great organization."

... And continued in California

After college, Bro. Stark hitched a ride to California with one of his favorite professors, Edward Boden, to further his education at the University of Southern California (USC).

About half way through the graduate program, however, Bro. Stark recognized that without hands-on management experience, he would not get as much out of his education. He left USC to work for Convair, where he worked on the Atlas missile project.

Three years later, USC accepted him back into the MBA program, and Bro. Stark took a part-time job at Hughes Aircraft Co., which became a full-time field engineer position when he graduated.

"I realized that there were some good things being done in statistics," Bro. Stark said. He went back to USC part-time to earn his MPA while he worked at Hughes Aircraft Co.

"I became fascinated with this notion of being able to predict human behavior, using statistical analysis to determine needs, and skills and learning how to develop precisely this kind of technology or behavior so people are more perceptive to their surroundings," Bro. Stark said. "It had to do with change and how people respond to it. ... and I got into a lot of heavy psychology ideas that I didn't anticipate."

With each degree he earned, concept he became passionate about and road of life he took, Bro. Stark's career path became more and more refined.

One thing did surprise him, though.

As a California bachelor, love was not on his radar.



Bro. Stark and Fran with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
"Eureka!"

A young secretary to a group manager at Hughes Aircraft Co., Mary Ann, kept an eye on the eligible bachelors at work. When her sister, Fran, was coming for a visit, she convinced Bro. Stark to call her. "She sounded delightful on the phone. ... I took her to dinner, and she was charming and attractive and talked a lot about her plans for teaching. ... Next thing I knew, I was infatuated with her," Bro. Stark said.

But timing has a mind of its own.

Fran returned to Indiana to fulfill a teaching position she had taken. After a year, Bro. Stark received a phone call and learned that Fran was moving back to California. In 1957, Bro. Stark and Fran got married.

With a wife supporting his passion for education, Bro. Stark continued learning. He realized that economics played a large role in his field and eventually earned a Ph.D. in international economics from Alliant International University, San Diego. He began to deal with "heavy-duty" economics and political issues which affected his projects. "I worked in an environment which was terribly competitive and involved life and death and a lot of political issues," he said. "You're dealing with multi-faceted problems."

Bro. Stark's projects were a result of powerful government officials' projected future worries or threats and high-ranking military officials' future needs. They would explain what features they needed in a defense weapon, aircraft or spacecraft, and Bro. Stark and his team had the responsibility of making it happen, whether the technology to do it had been invented or not.

Some of his work began to evolve into improving human interaction with technology. For instance, what's the most effective and safest way to train a pilot in a single-man craft at supersonic speeds? Or, since pilots have to look at their instruments in a circular motion and have constant awareness of them, how can cockpits be adjusted to make it easier for pilots to monitor their instruments? These types of queries brought up discussions of how the right and left sides of the brain work individually and together, and eventually led to Bro. Stark's Ph.D. in human behavior from International University, Institute of Luxembourg.

Incidentally, the aircraft industry developed a trainer aircraft that two people could fly together to solve the first problem. For the second, the French aerospace industry developed the technology to project instruments on the windscreen of the plane, so pilots no longer had to look down to monitor their flight.

While he worked at Hughes Aircraft Co., Bro. Stark began teaching graduate courses at USC, and eventually became a professor at Pepperdine University, Ambassador College, West Coast University and Northrop University. His careers took him all across the United States and throughout the world.

"It's fun to travel if you're willing to try to be sensitive to the country you're travelling in," Bro. Stark said. He always tries to learn a few words of the language in the countries he visits, and studies social expectations and cultural faux pas before his arrival.

"I'm proud of being a Christian ... and having that curiosity is extremely helpful to being able to look realistically at situations and think sensitively," he said.

Whether for pleasure or business, Fran would often accompany Bro. Stark on his trips. Bro. Stark says he's spent more time at sea with his wife than he did while serving in the Navy.

His four children live throughout the country. Sandy, a psychologist specializing in disaster preparedness in Los Angeles and throughout the United States, is married with a daughter. Tracy, who has earned two master's degrees, has a passion for working with people with disabilities and became a teacher. She now works in administration and planning. She and her husband have two sons. Bro. Stark's sons, Jim Jr. and Seth, followed in his footsteps by pursuing aerospace technology. Jim Jr. works in Virginia, while Seth finished his MBA and now runs his own consulting business in Seattle.

Bro. Stark retired from Hughes Aircraft Co. in 1988 and moved to Julian, Calif., a small gold mining town. Eight years later, he retired from teaching.

Bro. Stark hasn't taken his retirement sitting down.

He is still the owner and president of System Research Associates, but admits that most of his current work is for friends and acquaintances. He belongs to the Service Core of Retired Executives and served on the Julian Planning Commission, Julian Education Foundation, Julian Friends of the Library and board of directors at Desert Breezes resort. He supports non-profits, such as Heifer International, the Young America's Foundation and the Masonic Charities, financially and by speaking at functions to advocate for their fund raising goals. He served on the John Wanamaker Research Center Committee for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and is now a member of the Committee on Masonic Homes Building and Grounds Subcommittee.

Even with only 24 hours in a day, Bro. Stark has time to enjoy himself. He and Fran share a passion for restoring old homes. For the past five years, they've been working together to restore their 1875 home in New Carlisle, Ind., to its former glory. For part of the year, they also live in California.

Bro. Stark values ambition; investing in people, ideas and organizations; and growing spiritually. But at the end of the day, he knows that giving back is just as important. "Take on responsibility, and when you feel you've been blessed, share some of the funds and interactions you've been blessed by with those around you," he advises.

"I'm thrilled to see such accomplished men as Bro. Stark representing our fraternity to the world," R.W. Grand Master Thomas K. Sturgeon said.


Table of Contents | Index of Issues | Home