If you have ever eaten out – pizza, steak or popcorn – played video games or dealt with aging parents, chances are you may have encountered a Stark enterprise.
“He was a guy who truly loved Wichita,” said Mr. Stark’s son Doug. “He really loved the city, and he liked being involved and moving things forward.’
Mr. Stark – a Wichita business entrepreneur and philanthropist – died Thursday. He was 86.
A Celebration of Life service will be at 2 p.m. Monday at Plymouth Congregational Church.
Mr. Stark was born on Jan. 10, 1931, in St. Louis. His parents, J.W. and Reola Stark, moved to Wichita when he was 2. He was a graduate of East High School and attended the University of Kansas, Arizona State University and Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
He and his wife, Mary Lou Bain, were married on June 18, 1955, in Dallas.
In the first years of their marriage, Mr. Stark became a Magnavox dealer and operated Stark’s Suburban Sound at the corner of Kellogg and Woodlawn during the 1960s.
“He introduced to Wichita TV’s first ‘Pong’-style video game known as ‘Odyssey,’ ” Doug Stark wrote in his father’s eulogy. “His dealerships grew across the city to a store in Twin Lakes and a downtown location in conjunction with Jenkins Music Center.”
Mr. Stark also sold records with Jenkins in the lower level of Parklane Shopping Center and, for those who went to David’s Stores, he was the one who opened snack counters and popcorn and caramel corn stands at those stores.
He operated the Maverick Steak House across from Eastgate Shopping Center and a restaurant at Pawnee and Hydraulic called Chauncey’s Fish and Chips.
In the early 1970s, he was a franchisee of Ken’s/Mazzio’s Pizza with stores in western and central Kansas and in the Texas panhandle. He also operated Burger King franchises and Church’s Fried Chicken.
During the 1980s, he and his son Doug developed Little Caesar restaurants and opened store counters in Alco stores. He was a pilot and owned a Piper Cherokee Six 300.
In the 1980s, both of his parents suffered from dementia at the same time his wife, Mary Lou, was diagnosed with cancer. He cared for all of them in his home. After his parents died, he, Mary Lou and daughter Leigh Anne developed ComfortCare Homes, which took people with dementia out of traditional nursing home environments and put them in residential homes in upscale neighborhoods.
The homes are now some of the largest providers of dementia care in Wichita and operate in several locations across Kansas and Nebraska.
When he retired in 1999, Mr. Stark began The Grumpy Old Men charitable organization, which has given away more than $1.8 million to charities in Sedgwick County.
“He was on so many boards, I just can’t list them all,” Doug Stark said. “I think he just liked people and liked doing things for the right reasons and causes. He was very social, gregarious, and at 6 feet 5 inches tall with white hair, when he walked into a room, he commanded attention.
“He was almost Pied Piper-esque in how he handled people. He made people feel important. He was always able to surround himself with good people. People wanted to work with him and for him.”
Mr. Stark is survived by his wife, Mary Lou; sons Doug (Kathi) Stark, Scott Stark, Charles Bain (Brenda) Stark and Jody (Nicole) Stark; daughter Leigh Anne (Jason) Ramsey; 10 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.