Beverly Milner

Giving Spotlight: Beverly Milner

The U.S. in the early 1940s was a tumultuous place. Firmly entrenched in World War II, with many men headed overseas, the country saw women thrust into unfamiliar roles on the home front.

While many women took temporary positions during the war, Beverly Milner began blazing her own trail.

Milner is a pioneer, a role model for a generation of women and those who follow. The 102-year-old Freeland, Michigan, native pursued a career in mathematics and science at a time when women were entering the workplace but few in professions requiring an advanced education.

Much like Starr Founder Floyd Starr, Milner followed her passion and was able to carve out a remarkable career.

She attended nearby Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1935.

“There weren’t many women at Central during those years studying what I was,” Milner recalled. “Maybe two out of 50 students were women. My pursuit of math was discouraged, but I guess I’m stubborn so I did it anyway.”

After graduation Milner entered the education arena as a teacher. She spent a handful of years at a few different schools and while she enjoyed the academic environment, she was looking for a change of scenery.

Milner decided to pursue graduate school and earned her master’s degree in mathematics in 1943 from the University of Michigan.

Working as a teacher continued —this time in St. Johns, Michigan — until her mother noticed an intriguing opportunity.

“My mother saw that Dow (Chemical Co.) was hiring in the labs,” Milner said. “She asked me if I’d like her to call about the jobs, and I said I’d like her to do that. I was lucky enough to get an interview scheduled during Christmas break.”

She impressed enough during her interview that Milner had her choice of two jobs, taking one where she had the opportunity to work in the spectroscopy lab, becoming one of the first women to work in the labs at Dow.

Her focus was working to replicate colors of household appliances and other equipment to make plastics.

“A company would send in a piece of a refrigerator, for example, and I would match the color so we could sell the company our plastics,” Milner said. “It was fun, and I loved my job. My supervisor was wonderful. I owe the opportunity I had there to him.”

Milner, who has never married nor had children, was a single woman working in what was traditionally a male environment. Even when men returned from the war, as many women were ushered out of more prominent positions, Milner stayed.

She retired from Dow in 1970. While she may be small in stature, Milner’s professional accomplishments are nothing less than gigantic.

Attaining career success was fulfilling to her, but she also wanted to be active in philanthropy. There are several causes near to Milner’s heart. Upon learning about Starr’s work, her desire to donate married nicely with her love of helping children.

“I read about Starr’s work, and I just thought Floyd Starr was a great man,” Milner said. “I thought that was a place I’d like to help. It’s great that he took in those first two boys and boys like that who were troubled and unhappy, and everything grew from there.”

She was so compelled with Starr’s mission that she decided to make the more than two-hour drive to Albion with her mother to visit the campus.

After supporting Starr for many years, Milner has generously included the organization in her estate plans, in addition to her other interests. She continues to support both of her alma maters, as well as groups that assist animals like the Humane Society of the United States.

Although the Starr Milner first learned about has changed significantly over the years, the mission remains the same.

“The campus at Starr was so nice,” Milner said. “All of the people with Starr I’ve met are nice people. I never got the opportunity to meet Floyd Starr, but I’m happy to know that Starr continues to do good work.”


Cal Lehman

Giving Spotlight: Cal Lehman

Today Cal Lehman is content. At 85, the Starr alumnus reflects on his life with a sense of pride while recalling his accomplishments.

“You don’t need to be a CEO of a big company to be successful,” Lehman said. “I have a lot to be grateful for. I just hope I can give something back.”

He wasn’t always so satisfied. In fact he said he used to be very hard on himself, too much of a perfectionist. He views himself as a run-of-the-mill guy, but the circumstances he faced as a child make his story anything but average.

Lehman grew up in South Haven, Michigan. He describes his father as distant, a man who didn’t seem to have time for his children. This led to Lehman acting out, running away from home on multiple occasions. His mother was the stabilizing factor in the family, he recalls, but even she couldn’t handle his increasingly poor behavior.

His first experiences with school were negative as well. Lehman recalls a first-grade teacher who tried to get the left-hander to write with his right hand. He refused, and she sent him off to the corner of the room.

“For the simple fact that I was left-handed, I was removed from the rest of the class,” Lehman said. “I was treated as different, and that was a humiliating experience for me. It was something as simple as that event that led to me disliking school.”

School challenges coupled with his troubling situation at home created a toxic environment all around.

“My parents recognized that I was having problems socializing and with my attitude,” Lehman said. “I was not happy at home or in school, so my parents began looking into programs. Through the grape vine they heard about Starr, so my parents took a trip and spoke to some of the staff.”

Once Lehman arrived at Starr in 1944, his attitude began to change. He began relating to the boys with whom he lived, and he was surrounded by caring adults.

He joined the choir, played sports and even became an honorary driver for Floyd Starr, a position he coveted but would eventually lose because of a poor decision.

“That really taught me a valuable lesson,” Lehman said. “I had something taken away that I really cared about. It was discipline at the right time for me. You don’t always get that at home. I definitely learned from it.”

After two years at Starr, Lehman and his family determined he was ready to come home. He would later realize it was too soon to leave the program. He enlisted in the Air Force and would serve from 1946-49, traveling overseas to Asia before returning to Michigan.

Upon returning home, where Lehman would live until getting married, the problems that occurred prior to Starr began to reemerge. He finished his high school requirements, married his wife, Donna, and began his career.

Lehman worked in furniture sales for many years, moving out of state for a period of time before eventually returning to Michigan. Tragically his wife would pass away at a young age, due in part to complications stemming from rheumatic fever she had as a child. The couple never had children.

“Losing my wife was a hard time, of course,” Lehman said. “For a while there, I just didn’t care anymore. It was hard to overcome that moment in my life.”

But throughout his difficult experiences, Lehman leaned heavily on memories of his time at Starr.

“Starr is always in the background,” Lehman said. “With every aspect of my life, I’m always thinking about Starr. It was so structured, exactly what I needed at the time. We learned a certain way to make the bed, where you pull the sheet on the corner and tuck it so it’s perfect. I still do that today. You can never forget something that was so meaningful.”

Lehman has supported Starr through donations for several years, but he wasn’t engaged with any staff members for much of that time. Upon receiving a call from a member of Starr’s development team, Lehman got back in touch with the organization that has meant so much to him.

In October 2013, he attended Starr’s 100th anniversary Founder’s Day celebration with a friend who encouraged him to go. It was his first time back at Starr since his days as a student.

“My friend persuaded me to come to Founder’s Day, and I’m so glad I did,” Lehman said. “He was so impressed with Starr, and for someone to see it for the first time like he did, I was happy that he was so impressed. It felt really good for me to be back. I had no idea the extent of all the changes that Starr has made, from working with autism to everything else. It’s wonderful.”

Because of his experience as a student at Starr and what it has meant to him, Lehman has generously included Starr in his estate plans. He said despite the changes and advancements in society since his time at Starr, this work is still very necessary.

“I want to give back to the organization that has done so much for me,” Lehman said. “It would be the most important thing I’ve ever done, to give back, to help children. Floyd was so passionate, so sincere in his caring for troubled kids that he dedicated his life to it. Today that is still true. Everything they do at Starr is for the good of people. You can’t ask for more than that.”

Norman Nugent

Alumni Spotlight: Norman Nugent

Behind the wheel of a motorhome, Starr alumnus Norman Nugent heads north on Interstate 69 in northern Indiana, accompanied by his wife of 48 years, Evelyn.

The couple is on the last leg of a five-month trek across the country in 2014, visiting old friends and relatives, many of whom they haven’t seen in years. They’ve already been to South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California, Texas and several other states, covering a total of 12,000 miles.

All the more impressive is where they started — their home in the small town of Garland, Maine. Nugent quips that there are more cattle than people.

On the way to Detroit to visit Nugent’s older sister and other family members, the couple passes through Angola, Indiana. Nugent begins to wonder why that sounds so familiar. A while later he sees a sign for Albion, Michigan. Suddenly it hits him.

“I wonder if it’s still there,” he says to himself. A slight change of plans sees the Nugents making a pit stop at the Albion post office, where Nugent would learn that the place he credits with changing his life was still fulfilling its mission nearly 60 years after he left.

Although Starr has evolved since Nugent, 72, roamed the campus from 1956-57, the memories came flooding back.

“It brought back a lot of memories,” Nugent said. “I had no idea Starr was still around. This place had changed my life. I was so happy to see what it’s become today.”

Growing up in Detroit, Nugent and his family struggled financially. When the state decided to remove the children from the home, Nugent, who said he was too old for foster care at the time, was sent to Starr. The structure of activities in Starr’s program provided stability foreign to his childhood thus far.

“I hated going to school while I was at home,” Nugent said. “But I think that’s because of the place I was in. Once I got to Starr, things changed. Schooling had a bigger impact on me, and I learned that I wanted better for myself than I was getting back in Detroit. Starr helped me realize that my home wasn’t a good environment and that there may be something away from home that might be better.”

After leaving the program, Nugent returned home and began working to help support his family. In 1960, upon turning 18, he fulfilled his dream of joining the Navy.

Coupled with his experience at Starr, a two-decade stint in the Navy taught him valuable life lessons and prepared him to succeed.

“It woke me up a bit,” Nugent said. “I knew that if I didn’t do something to change my situation, the rest of my life wouldn’t be worth much. Had I not gone to Starr and then joined the Navy, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have married the woman I married. I would probably still be in Detroit.”

Looking back, Nugent believes he didn’t realize at the time how much his placement at Starr meant.

“In hindsight, I didn’t appreciate Starr for what it did for me as much as I should have,” Nugent said. “The discipline at Starr helped. The education I received was wonderful. But you don’t think that at the time. It’s not until later in life that you realize how much this place does for people.”

Nugent embarked on a career at AT&T after leaving the Navy and managed customer service centers across the U.S. He later worked for an engineering and construction company, Foster Wheeler, serving as the corporate records manager in New Jersey.

Upon retiring he moved to his current home in Maine. Nugent and his wife also have two children, a daughter and a son, and he believes his accomplishments can all be traced back to his development at Starr.

“The more you know from an educational standpoint, the better off you are,” Nugent said. “Starr opened a whole new book for me in that regard. Starr also gives you values and perspective. When I visited the campus with my wife, I ran into some boys. I told them to listen to what these people are telling you because it will change your life. I truly believe that. It’s great to see Starr doing better than ever, and when I come back to the area I will be sure to visit again.”

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Donor Spotlight: Joe and Clara Stewart

Joe and Clara StewartWhen they first came to Battle Creek in 1980, Joe and Clara Stewart knew that they wanted to do one thing: help children. Joe started out working for the Kellogg Company as the Director of Child Nutrition, which is where he connected with Arlin Ness, then-current President and CEO of Starr Commonwealth and the organization as a whole. “Starr is the kind of place where once you get involved in it, if you believe in the uplifting of people and children, you believe in Starr.”

“I was with the Kellogg Company and we would always support Starr’s program,” said Joe. “We would always get invited to Founder’s Day [on Starr’s Albion campus], and you can’t go to the place and see what’s happening there without feeling a sense of the value it has for kids.”

Through Joe’s involvement with the Kellogg Company, the Stewart’s became more familiar with Starr and its programs, so much so that in 2001, Arlin asked Clara to serve on the Board of Trustees. She retired from the Board in 2010, but their son, Erick Stewart, still serves today.

“When I first started with Starr I was told [by people in the community], ‘oh, that’s a school for bad boys,’ and I told them that needed to change,” Clara remembers. “You don’t deal with bad boys. You help children help themselves.”

The Stewart’s commitment to the children of their community took on another new form in 1999, when Joe, along with former Starr Presidents Arlin Ness and Martin Mitchell, got together with members of the Battle Creek community to found the National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism, then called the Institute for Healing Racism. “As a black American having lived in this country,” Joe said passionately, “the whole issue of racism is perhaps the greatest weakness or disease we have. Unless we can get over that, we will continue going into the future destroying the potential of human beings for reasons we don’t even understand.” Through Kellogg and Starr, the Institute for the Healing of Racism was able to reach 1500 people in Calhoun County, creating lasting relationships among participants and opening their eyes to the ways in which inequality can be ingrained in each of us. “That kind of involvement on the part of Starr and the IHR is focused on one of the greatest needs now in the human family, and we particularly need that these days, when hate and racism has become front and center,” Joe said.

The couple’s generosity and passion for the community continues to this day with their recent donation to the Binder Park Zoo to build the African Tented Camp and Zamani School. The new space creates a unique opportunity for patrons to stay overnight and learn about Africa, its history, and its culture. Their hope with this exhibit is to teach the community about African culture and cultivate “Ubuntu”, which is the South African philosophy of “humanity towards others.”

To honor the many gifts this great couple has shared with our community, Starr is excited to announce that Joe and Clara Stewart will be receiving the Oneness of Humankind Award at our 105th Anniversary Celebration on October 6, 2018. To learn more about the event or to buy tickets, you can visit