Stark: ‘Cornell opened the world for me’

Jon Stark ’52 could have taken over the family feed business in Dayton, Iowa. If he had, his life would have been very different from the way it has played out. The difference, according to Stark, was Cornell.

“My father offered me the business when I was finishing high school,” he says. “My mother wanted me to go to college. There was a successful doctor from our little town who had gone to Cornell, so I applied here and got accepted. Cornell opened the world for me.”

Terry and Jon Stark ’52 (Photo by Lisa Lewis)
Terry and Jon Stark ’52 (Photo by Lisa Lewis)

Stark joined the Gammas, played basketball, and worked in the Bowman Hall kitchen. Just before it was time to graduate with a degree in economics and business, and with the Korean War going on, Stark got a notice that he’d been drafted as a Marine infantryman. Instead, he enlisted in the Navy’s Pacific Amphibious Forces. Following service he entered the M.B.A. program at Stanford University, where he met his wife, Terry, a graduate student in education. They married in 1962.

Jon and Terry lived in Zurich, Switzerland, and London, England, before landing in California where he established himself in mortgage banking and financial consulting and where they raised their son, Eric, and daughter, Annemarie.

“I was actively promoting Cornell College, but when it came time for Eric to pick a college, he wasn’t interested,” Jon recalls. “He enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley. About a month before he was to start his second year there, he asked me if I thought he could get into Cornell College. I was quite surprised.”

Eric Stark ’89 transferred to Cornell and graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, combining theatre, art, and English.

Following graduation Eric was offered an internship in the prop department at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. He returned to San Francisco and spent five years doing sets and props for theatre companies in the Bay area.

Jon was a member of the Cornell Board of Trustees from 1989 to 1997.

The college recently announced a gift of $1 million from Jon and Terry that established the Stark Endowed Fellowship to fund internships and other experiential learning opportunities for students. It is administered through the Berry Career Institute.

“The Berry Career Institute brings real-world experiences to the students,” Jon says. “It’s so important for them to understand what life will be like after college.”

In addition, he says, Cornell’s One Course At A Time curriculum helps students learn how to focus. “It was perfect for Eric. I hope our gift will allow more students to have that kind of experience,” he says.

After working in theaters on both coasts, Eric received his Master of Architecture degree from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He spent 11 years in Boston and has been a professor at the University of Maine at Augusta since 2005. 

“I hope our gift will do for students what it did for Jon and what it did for our son Eric,” Terry says. “In both instances, coming to Cornell was really a life-changing experience.”