OCU plans interfaith dedication to honor the late religion professor John Starkey

By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —

OKLAHOMA CITY – As part of their graduation celebrations this year, Oklahoma City University will dedicate one of his favorite campus spots to beloved professor, the late John Starkey. (June 17, 1953 – January 11, 2020)

The public is invited to attend the interfaith tree and bench dedication at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 6 as friends and family celebrate Starkey’s life and commitment to serving others. Starkey taught at OCU for 21 years.

At the time of his passing, the dedicated Millhouse Professor of Theology had earned numerous honors, including Outstanding Faculty Award in 2006, the Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award in 2014-15, the Excellence in Teaching Award for Full-Time Faculty in 2009, and Distinguished Honors Professor in 2001, 2005, 2008 and 2012. 

Those who knew Starkey were greatly impacted by his teaching and challenging questions, and his legacy is most embodied by the tributes given by his students and colleagues. He spent more than two decades devoted to his students and others at Oklahoma City University.

“John Starkey had a profound impact on our university and demonstrated his love for others and the world around him every day,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Horton-Ware, director of religious life at OCU. “We hope to honor his memory by gathering as a community and celebrating his incredible life.”

Starkey could often be seen taking a walk around campus and enjoying its various beautification projects.

In honor and celebration of his love for nature and trees, representatives of various faiths will hold the tree and bench dedication ceremony near OCU’s Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel.

Horton-Ware said she felt it was important to have something students can look at to remember him, reported Destyni Lietzke, of MediaOCU.

“We created a scholarship in his honor,…but we also wanted something tangible that people could look at and physically see and touch,” Horton-Ware said “That’s where the tree and bench idea came into play. This way, students can have both.”

Olivia Clerk, a religion senior who had Starkey for multiple classes throughout her time at OCU said a memorial tree being planted is perfect, Lietzke wrote.

“You would always find him under a tree or around a tree. There’s stories and stories of him just sitting outside on the quad. He felt a special connection to trees and was always connecting them to faith,” Clerk said. 

During the memorial service, on January 19, 2020, Dr. Mark Davies, Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics at OCU, gave a tribute to his “friend and colleague” John Starkey that read in part:

“John was a former Jesuit who became a Quaker and lived much of his last 21 and half years in service to Methodists both at OCU and through teaching in United Methodist camps and churches. John practiced and taught the best of what he experienced in these spiritual communities, and he loved and sought deeper understanding of his siblings from many other faiths and from those who oriented themselves in different ways to religion.

John loved the classroom and his books, but he was equally at home and happy enjoying the beauty of nature as could be seen when he would take his St. Francis like walks on campus finding beauty in the trees, flowers, and the native plants. He also spent many days hiking in the Green and White mountain ranges of New England with his dear friends. John found joy in nature. One of his students noted that “the way Starkey looked at trees is the way we looked at Starkey.”

Parking will be available for the dedication on the east end of Noble Drive and in the Kramer School of Nursing parking lots. 

n honor and celebration of the late OCU Professor John Starkey’s love for nature and trees, representatives of various faiths will hold the tree and bench dedication ceremony on May 6 at 1 p.m., near OCU’s Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel.
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