Where Are They Now? Rev. Dr. Bill Starr

The first sentence on page 53 of Made For This: The Young Life Story reads, “To follow a charismatic leader is one challenge. To follow the founder of the mission and the only ‘boss’ the staff had ever known, was quite another.” In 1964, Bill Starr found himself in exactly this position, as he followed founder and President Jim Rayburn as Young Life’s second president. I recently had the privilege of catching up with Bill on the phone. What follows is a portion of our conversation.

The Informer: How long did you serve on Young Life staff and what roles did you serve in?

Bill: “Though I first heard about Young Life from a Navy buddy in the early 40s, it wasn’t until I was a student at Wheaton College in 1947 that I actually got involved. George Sheffer asked me to work with him at New Trier High School on Chicago’s north shore, and that was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with Young Life. Over the course of the next three decades, I had the opportunity to serve on student staff, as an area director in Spokane, Washington, as regional director in Chicago, and as Young Life president from 1964 to 1977.”

The Informer: What have you been doing since leaving Young Life?

Bill: “Immediately following my time with Young Life, I spent several years helping to establish a new organization, the National Center for Youth and Families. In 1985, after a move to Phoenix, the Starr Leadership Foundation was established with an emphasis on helping homeless families. (It eventually became the Southwest Leadership Foundation.) I continued to serve on multiple boards as well. Today, I live on the beautiful Sylte Ranch in Northern Idaho.”

The Informer: How did working for Young Life impact you?

Bill: “I was impressed with the concept of invading the life of kids to get to know them so that the message had relevance in their lives as they were growing up. In college I worked for the Free Church in Minnesota. During this time, I was asked to serve as the youth ministry director. It was natural to use the church facilities; however, I found that this limited our outreach. I learned from Young Life a broader understanding; that there was a mission field out there. I began to grasp more and more what the kid culture was like - ministry out of the understanding of where kids lived their lives. Even the organization of the message; not getting to the crucifixion in a hurry, focusing on the person of Christ, going to where they were, listening to them, talking to them. It was a grand time of learning.”

The Informer: What was one of your memorable experiences from your time on staff?

Bill: “When we were thinking about a Young Life camp in the Northwest. I was in Spokane while Ad Sewell was in Seattle. I remember going up to see Malibu for the very first time with Jim (Rayburn), Ad, and some others.  We were coming off the gang plank and Jim said, ‘When we have this property, here’s what we are going to do.’ Before we even owned the property, Jim had a clear vision. Meanwhile I was wondering how we could ever afford it! Before I knew it, we were purchasing Malibu, and a friend of mine, Ted Swanson, and I did the first inventory of the property. I also have fond memories of directing the first camp at Malibu. I invited Mitch (Bob Mitchell) to be the personnel director.”

The Informer: Are you involved with Young Life today? How?

Bill: “Yes. We live in a beautiful place, and Young Life staff come to our property to spend time and talk.”

The Informer: What advice might you give to current Young Life staff today?

Bill: “I would try to encourage them to pursue the basics and learn them experientially. Basics like getting to know kids, spending time where they are at. Don’t bypass the idea of how to reach a kid. Keep going back to the basics of Young Life - making contact, entering their world. Don’t expect them to come to yours.”

The Informer: When you hear the name “Young Life” today, what are some of the first words that come to your mind?

Bill: “Whoopee, someone knows about Young Life! When I hear someone talking about Young Life, I want to pursue them further to hear about their story.”​