Pentecostal Pioneers: Herbert Starr

Pentecostal Pioneers: Herbert Starr
By Phillip S. Cornell

No man was prouder to be a Hoosier than Hebert Starr. Although he has spent the majority of his adult life in the state of Michigan and transplanted his immediate family here, he has never forgotten his roots. He was born on the farm that belonged to the Starr family for several generations before his birth. This farm is located on a ridge overlooking Bartlettsville, Indiana, a small village near Bedford. The ridge has often been called Starr Ridge. Several of Hebert Starr’s relatives still live along that ridge.

Hebert Starr was born on May 5, 1900, as the second son of Oscar and Charlotte Ross Starr. His father was generally considered to be a good man who led a peaceful life and went to church occasionally. He was also a fiercely independent man. His mother also had the reputation of being an honest and straightforward woman who led a clean life and tried to teach her children to do the same. Hebert had four brothers: Lebert, Noble, Jesse, and Gerald.

Most of Hebert’s memories of childhood are pleasant. Hebert remembers evenings spent with his own family or visiting his uncle’s family or his grandparents, who lived nearby. This bonding, or sense of family, was one of the more important things that Hebert Starr was able to pass on. Among his fondest memories are his early days on the farm.

He attended a one-room schoolhouse. Hebert was good at arithmetic and spelling, but not as good at reading. This he later felt was because he was nearsighted, and during that time very few people owned glasses.

One of the best remembered events of Hebert’s childhood occurred in 1910 when he and his brothers first saw the bright red roadster of Dr. Worley, the Starr family physician. When Dr. Worley finished his visit and was about to leave, he must have seen the earnest, pleading look on the boys’ faces, because he offered them a ride to Bartlettsville. He told them, however, that they would have to walk home. They were so delighted at the chance to ride in the automobile, they quickly accepted.

In 1918, Hebert obtained his first job away from home. He was
hired by a railroad “extra gang” in Terre Haute, Indiana. He stayed in
a small hotel in Terre Haute where the food was provided as part of the
lodging fee.

In Bedford, Indiana, a position opened up in the sawmill. The family sawmill on the farm aided him in obtaining this employment.

Although he owned a horse and buggy, they were no match for the new technology, at least insofar as attracting members of the opposite sex. Hebert soon felt that he had to have his own car. He worked hard in the sawmill and lived simply and frugally for the next two years to save as much money as he possibly could.

During this period of time he met Eleanor Hudson from Heltonville, Indiana, a dark-haired, beautiful young woman. On their first date, he took her to a picnic in his horse and buggy. Thereafter, for a considerable period of time, Hebert lost track of Eleanor.

In 1922, Hebert purchased his own new automobile. Soon thereafter, he had another date with Eleanor Hudson. During the next several weeks, they were together often. Eleanor was bright and spontaneous and tried to (if not insisted on) enjoying life in the present. Hebert was more cautious and deliberate, with certain long-term goals. This conflict of personalities and aspirations would cause some difficulty, but in many ways it brought out the best in both Hebert and Eleanor.

Hebert recalls the time he asked Eleanor to marry him. They were driving his horse and buggy near the Todd farm, which he had managed a few years earlier. They came upon an outdoor meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. Fearful, Eleanor begged, “Hebert, take me away from here right now!” Hebert sensed his opportunity and interjected, “Eleanor, if you will marry me, I will protect you from the Klan and anyone else.” Eleanor, apparently anxious and sensing the possibility of a greater danger, quickly accepted the offer.

Eleanor, now deceased, recalled the commitment to marriage in a somewhat different light. She remembered that on their wedding day, March 3, 1923, they went to the justice of the peace at the square in Bedford. Hebert became indecisive. Apparently, he commenced to walk with her around the square several times. Eleanor, sensing that Hebert might be getting cold feet, informed him that if they walked around the square again, she would not marry him. Hebert stopped and went to the justice of the peace and they were married.

Hebert worked for the Shea Donley Stone Company and became a skilled planer. About this time his eldest son, William Richard, was born. This was a very happy event in Hebert and Eleanor’s lives, a time when Hebert’s goals in life were solidified. He cut stone for numerous buildings, many of which are in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other metropolitan areas.

During the 1920s and until the Great Depression, the economy was good and the work was steady at the stone quarry. Although the stock market crashed in 1929, it was not until 1932 that the stone quarry shut down for long periods of time. Suddenly Hebert was without a job. He had no control over his life and that of his family. He was willing to work but could not. He even sold apples. Life became desperate, with hardly enough money for food, let alone house payments and entertainment.

Eleanor enjoyed life and especially entertainment. She often insisted that Hebert take her to shows in and around the Bedford area. Now there was no money for such entertainment. Eleanor heard about a little church on Fourteenth Street where the Pentecostals met together for worship services. “I hear they put on quite a show. They say sometimes the ministers or even other people dance down the aisles,” she said. “And they tell me that the music is lively and entertaining. Best of all, this performance costs nothing.” She soon talked Hebert into going to a service.

Thereafter, they commenced going to several services with their family. They both felt convicted of sins and felt a need for God in their lives. The church they were going to was commonly referred to as the One God Pentecostal Church, located near the city dump in downtown Bedford on Fourteenth Street, pastored by Reverend C. J. Davis.

Hebert considers the night he received the Holy Ghost to be the single most important event in his life. The evangelist was J. L. Patton. Hebert had felt conviction at other services but had not responded to the altar calls. He and Eleanor had discussed this at home and had talked about what it would mean to live as Christians. Often, Eleanor suggested that the next time Hebert was in church and felt the call of God he should go to the altar; however, Hebert was still reluctant. But soon he found the courage to respond to the altar call.

At the moment he made a move toward the altar, Eleanor had second thoughts. Later she confessed that she was hopeful of continuing the lifestyle that they had before and did not want to become connected with these Pentecostal people. So she moved to stop Hebert’s progress toward the altar, grabbing hold of him to prevent him from going to the altar. Her hands grasped the jacket that he was wearing and held fast. He slipped out of the coat and went straight to the altar.

Prior to that time, Hebert had developed a habit of smoking cigarettes. Although this was long before present day warnings of the physical dangers of smoking, smoking was thought of as a rather dirty habit. Shortly after attending the church, he picked up a cigarette and lit it. He immediately felt a deadening sensation starting at the top of his head and working down through his body. Frightened, he thought he might be having a stroke or even be dying. He prayed, promising God that if that feeling were taken from him, he would never smoke again.

He put out the cigarette. Then the deadening feeling lifted. A short time later, apparently dubious that he had received such a signal from God, Hebert started to smoke another cigarette. Again, the deadening feeling came, and again, he prayed and promised never to smoke again. This second time convinced this Hoosier that he should never smoke again. He has not since that day. It was a few nights later that he was filled with the Holy Ghost.

All was not bliss, however, in the Starr household. Eleanor had not yet joined Hebert in the church. Initially, she was very upset by his conversion to Pentecost. She had only intended to go there to see the show. She resisted the change in his life and often discussed and debated the matter with him. She did, however, continue to attend church with him. Before long she also followed her husband into thechurch.

Economically, things did not change for the better for the Starr family. Almost everyone was out of work at that time, and there was little prospect for jobs in Bedford. Hebert and Eleanor now had other children: daughters Gloria, Oweetah, and Phyllis, and son H. James.

Although this was a tough time economically, Hebert grew spiritually. He was beginning to feel his call of God to the ministry. He spent much of his spare time in the study of the Bible and in discussions with his wife and son William, trying to learn as much as he could as fast as he could. Many passages of Scripture opened up to him in a way that they never had before. His Bible became his constant
companion. He read and reread certain passages of Scripture, each time getting something new and beneficial. He had never realized before what a wonderful book the Bible was. Eleanor and William experienced the same sort of growth in their spiritual lives. Hebert first became a lay minister in the local church in Bedford, and prior to moving to Michigan, he became the assistant pastor.

The family moved to Lansing in 1938. Hebert found work through the use of his old trade, cutting stone, with the Roy Beard Cutstone Company in Lansing. Work became unsteady. Hebert sought whatever odd jobs he could. He finally found work shoveling snow outside the Fisher Body plant. Thereafter, he was hired by the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors as a plant worker. He worked there for the next twenty years while he built the church and raised his family.

The first church in Lansing was located at 131 South Hosmer. The family lived in this house also.

During this time Hebert learned that a truck driver had a lot for sale at 601 South Francis. He offered it to Hebert for ten dollars plus Hebert’s promise to pay the back taxes. Hebert purchased the lot and began digging a basement for a church. The conditions were less than ideal. Much of the work was done by hand during the winter months, and Michigan has cold winters. Hebert and his son William did most of the unbelievably hard work. Any help that was given was looked upon as proof positive that God answered prayers. After work, Hebert would board the bus each day from their home on Beach Street to go to the church site to work well into the evening. Many of the churches that formed the core of the initial work in the state of Michigan also helped.

Soon thereafter, Hebert found a lot located at 522 South Francis, about half a block away from the church. Here he built his second home. Again he received help from several men in the churches located in other cities. He and Eleanor were to live at this address for most of the years that they pastored in Lansing.

This church is one of the pioneer churches of the Michigan District United Pentecostal Church. Over the years, hundreds, if not thousands, of people received an introduction to Pentecost. An untold amount of ministers, especially from the Midwest, have at one time or another preached at the church located at 601 South Francis. During the course of his ministry, Hebert Starr baptized over six hundred people, most of whom received the Holy Spirit. He and Eleanor worked diligently to make sure that the work in Lansing progressed.

Their home was always an open home in which one could come and feel welcome. Anyone associated with the church work was treated as a close friend and almost a family member. Most visitors quickly sensed the commitment, integrity, and friendship that was so much a part of the family. Their lives centered around the church work–the most important thing in their lives.

Hebert enjoyed his family. Eleanor and Hebert considered the lives of their children to be very important and interacted with them wherever and when ever possible. Both Hebert and Eleanor were interested in their children obtaining good education. At times, their children would bring home friends from school, and they were readily accepted into the Starr home. Very often a conversation would ensue between these school friends and Hebert and Eleanor. Lively conversations would take place on various subjects, but more often than not, at one time or another, they turned towards church work and salvation. Both Hebert and Eleanor were interested in their children obtaining good education.

Hebert and Eleanor were also committed to people in need. The members of their church in Lansing came from all walks of life. Several came from different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Most, if not all, could have been classified as poor. Both Hebert and Eleanor felt a strong obligation to attend to the needs of these people and minister to them. If Hebert or Eleanor knew of it, no church member ever went without a basic necessity of life.

Hebert Starr valued children. For the better part of two generations he has given candy to children at the conclusion of most services. People who have reflected upon their childhood interactions with Hebert recall them as fond memories.

Toward the end of his pastorship of the Lansing church, Hebert purchased some lots on the south side of Lansing on the corner of Jolly Road and Starr Avenue as a place for a new church. He saw to it that the lots were properly rezoned before resigning. In 1971, Hebert Starr resigned as the pastor of the East Side Apostolic Tabernacle in Lansing, Michigan, and turned the work over to his grandson, David D. Stephens.

Brother Stephens was able to build a new church on the lots. Life Christian Church building is overflowing. A new church on M-99 near I-96 has the first wing completed. In recent years, the church has established a private Christian school and child care center at the church.

Hebert Starr’s oldest son, William R. Starr, was the district superintendent for the Michigan District United Pentecostal Church from 1958 until his death in 1987. He took over a prayer meeting group in Albion, Michigan. This church in Albion is one of the prominent churches of that community and one of the most successful in the Michigan District.

Douglas Stephens, Hebert’s son-in-law, also came out of the church in Lansing. In 1954, he started the United Pentecostal Church in Owosso. In 1963, he began a work in Grand Ledge and has, at the present time, a very successful church. He was formerly Pentecostal Conqueror’s president and secretary for the Michigan District for about fifteen years. He has, at various times since, been a member of the Michigan Board for almost twenty years. His wife, Gloria, a daughter of Hebert’s, was the editor of the Michigan District News since its inception in 1956, serving as editor for thirty-four years.

Another daughter of Hebert’s, Phyllis Cornell, is a member of the First United Pentecostal Church of Grand Ledge, Michigan. She has served for twelve years as the circulation manager for the Michigan District News. For approximately twenty years she was the head cook at the Michigan District Camp during the family camp sessions and was also the conference cook.

Hebert’s youngest son, H. James Starr, is a prominent and respected attorney practicing in Lansing, Michigan.

Several of Hebert Starr’s grandchildren are involved in United Pentecostal churches in various parts of the United States.

In retirement, Hebert Starr has continued to travel widely throughout the United States. He is especially fond of returning to Paul Jordan’s church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Brother Jordan has always been kind and considerate of Hebert Starr and is among his closest friends. In September of 1977, Hebert lost his beloved wife, Eleanor. She had been his friend, confidante, and advisor in life. The death of Eleanor was a most significant loss for Hebert. She had been his mate for the entire period of his adulthood. He trusted her. Even though they did not always agree, he knew that Eleanor’s opinions were sincerely held. He always felt that she looked out for what she believed was his best interest. She was his constant companion. Very often, when the world around him threatened, he was still able to talk it over with Eleanor. He understood that she had a keen and clever mind, and admired her for it. In many ways, she gave him the self confidence necessary to achieve some of the important things he did in life.

Hebert lived in an apartment provided by the Christ Apostolic Church in Albion, Michigan. His son William, the pastor of the church, and William’s wife, June, supported and maintained him for ten years. Then he moved to a senior citizen complex in Lansing.

In reflecting upon his life, Hebert believes that his salvation is the greatest thing that ever happened to him. He says, “It gave me a happy life.” He believes that it replaced a probable failure with a success both here on earth and after death in heaven. He says that salvation helps one to get along and that “God works things ultimately to your favor.”

Accomplishments mean more when a person bases his actions on something other than getting ahead in this life. Doing so also minimizes the potential for conflict with others. His advice to young ministers is to “love God, love the people of God and, in fact, all people.” He believes that it is absolutely important to keep God’s commandments. He also believes it is important to be humble, regardless of a person’s station in this life. “Make as many friends as you can, and whenever you have the opportunity, help someone in need. Do not stand in the way of success of others.”

Hebert has twenty-three grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren. Most of them are involved in one way or another in the church. Along with his wife, Eleanor, he has also lost in this life his daughter Oweetah in 1985, and his son William in 1987.

THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS COMPILED BY MARY H. WALLACE, AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1992, PAGES 231-242. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.

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