Today my father would have been 100 years old— a staggering thought, not only because of the weight a century bears, but because his legacy is so full of the lively, energetic, relentlessly positive and curious larger-than-life person he was, in a century so fraught in so many ways. This morning my brother sent an email with a simple sentence about our father’s enduring influence, and I know my other two siblings and my mother are thinking of him today as well.
Born in Munich Germany, my father was raised as the oldest child in a well-to-do merchant family. His privileged childhood ended with the rise of Hitler, interrupting his education which he had to continue in England, by himself, until even that became impossible. At 17, with his stilted school-boy English, he began to plead with a stranger in Detroit, MI to provide an affidavit to allow my father and his family to come to U.S. The letters, which the Osnos family saved, and which now are archived at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum became increasingly urgent and desperate. The Osnos family finally brought my father and his brother to this country in 1938, just weeks before Kristallnacht in Germany, and it took nearly half a year before the rest of my father’s family were able to come in 1939.
My Dad’s dreams of becoming a medical doctor gave way to the available job he could secure as a chemist at the Ford Motor Co. and he attended school at night to get a chemistry degree. He later began his own business as a manufacturer’s agent for reinforced plastics, and was proud to be a pioneer in developing applications in the plastics industry.
He was a championship tennis player (Midwest over-80s tournament winner!), sang energetically (if not always entirely on tune) in the temple choir, and was a deeply committed Jew. He founded a temple community, served on myriad Jewish communal boards and especially on the community-wide roundtable of Christians, Jews and
Muslims. He was a pilot, and frequent traveler. He read voraciously and could talk intelligently about more widely varying topics than anyone else I’ve ever known. He loved a good party, and my husband, after being served one of my Dad’s martinis for the first time thought he should have been an anesthesiologist!
Most of all he loved his family, and the love of his life was my mother, who he called his “child bride” all their lives together. His was the lap of the safe haven, and no matter one’s mood, his crinkle-eyed smile and the way he started laughing at his own jokes long before he finished telling them made it impossible not to laugh with him.
The century was the better for Walter Stark having lived it…..love you Dad.