“Whatever talents we have ought to be used to make the world better…and to make the human family happier.”
That is what Martha Jane Phillips Starr’s father told her as a child. Many of us might make a note of this and carry on, but she took this notion to heart, remaining devoted to it throughout her life.
There is no doubt that this spirit of philanthropy, which was ingrained in her at such a young age, is what led to the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Field of Interest Fund pledging a generous gift of $1 million to the A Commitment to Memory campaign, naming The Martha Jane Phillips Starr Memory Care Residence.
Many of you may recognize the name “Starr” – yes, Martha Jane was the mother of resident Phil Starr and mother-in-law to Barry Starr. But before this, Martha Jane was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in 1906 – 11 years before the U.S. entered World War I and 14 years before Women’s Right to Vote. She was the daughter of L.E. Phillips, co-founder of Phillips Petroleum Company (Phillips 66), and can be described as an extremely determined and dedicated woman.
Martha Jane was not given the opportunity to go to college like her brothers, and instead attended finishing school. In 1929, she married John Wilbur Starr, otherwise known as “Twink,” a University of Kansas-educated geologist, who happened to be a classmate of her brothers.
Originally, Twink worked at Phillips 66, but after they married, he decided to explore other careers. In 1931, they moved to Kansas City, Missouri, and had two sons. During World War II, Twink volunteered for the Navy and was called away for duty in the Pacific. At this same time, Martha Jane enrolled their sons in Pembroke Country Day School. It was here that she got her true start in philanthropic work, helping with fundraising efforts and eventually becoming a trustee.
Martha Jane went on to volunteer in her local community with Junior League, the Red Cross, and Planned Parenthood, eventually serving as president for each. In the 1950s, she became involved with research at the University of Kansas Medical Center that focused on human reproduction. She believed this same attention could be applied to healthy marriages – preparing men and women for marriage as they prepared for careers. This became a major goal of hers, and in 1959, Martha Jane worked with the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC) to create the Research Center for Family Development.
In 1963, she became one of the first women trustees at UMKC, where she was later awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. She also established the Family Studies Center and its Endowment Fund. In 1967, she created the UMKC Women’s Council, its Graduate Assistance Fund, and later, the Starr Education Committee.
When asked of his mother, Phil says, “She was a good mother and a committed volunteer.” Barry adds, “She was an incredible mother-in-law. She was so passionate about women’s issues and education.”
In 2011, Martha Jane passed away, and left her money to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, where she established the Field of Interest Fund. She named her son, Phil, and friends Mary Kay McPhee and JR Majors as trustees.
Her Will stipulated that her Fund be used to support causes that were close to her heart, and that they support the development of educational programs that assist youth and adults, and promote stable marriages and healthy family life. In May 2016, the trustees heard our case for why the new Memory Care Residence programming aligns with her life work.
We shared that our residence will be dedicated to promoting healthy family life by removing the daily burdens of hands-on care by loved ones of those affected by dementia, restoring spousal and family relationships that suffer during the caregiving phase of life. Because of our program, relationships between wives and husbands, daughters and sons, and grandchildren and friends can again be restored. The trustees unanimously agreed to authorize this major gift.
Most notably, this gift marked only the second time the Fund made a donation outside of Kansas City. The Starr family also has a special tie to the Sarasota community. After the war, Twink began working for RB Jones Insurance when none other than the Ringling Bros. Circus became a potential client. Twink was asked to visit with the circus, and later, after he won them over, he purchased a vacation home on Longboat Key, where their family visited for more than 40 years.
By example, Martha Jane taught her sons the importance of giving. Today, Phil sits on the Plymouth Harbor Foundation Board, and he and Barry are leading the A Commitment to Memory campaign.
Phil says, “I saw both of my parents live a long life, longer than expected – dad to 95 and mother to 105. Barry and I want to have the most caring experience possible when the time comes. We want to know that we, and our family, will be taken care of.”
Plymouth Harbor is most grateful to Martha Jane and the generous gift by her Field of Interest Fund. There is no doubt that the Martha Jane Phillips Starr Memory Care Residence will be dedicated to fulfilling her legacy.