Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation
May 12, 2010
AN OPEN LETTER FROM THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE STARK
FOUNDATION REGARDING THE BOOK “IF THE DEVIL HAD A WIFE”
Rebecca Nugent says she wrote this book under the name “Frank Mills”. She variously describes the book as both “fact” and “opinion,” but it is little more than a compilation of salacious rumors, questionable documentation, and dubious claims involving people who are no longer alive to either defend themselves or be questioned. Such an approach may make for an entertaining read, but it is not a formula on which truth is based. While each page of the book says that it is a “True Texas Tale,” the emphasis should be on “Tale” and not “True”.
Rebecca Nugent, an individual who is not even in the Stark family bloodline, has been consumed for more than 20 years by the mistaken idea that she and some of the other descendants of Homer and Bill Stark — boys who were adopted in infancy by Lutcher Stark — possessed some sort of “birthright” that entitled them to all of Lutcher Stark’s fortune, despite Lutcher Stark’s own Will to the contrary.
We believe the story confirms the author’s resentment of the fact that Lutcher and Nelda Stark chose to direct most of their wealth to a private foundation for the benefit of the greater Orange, Texas community instead of to Ms. Nugent and her family members. Regrettably, this book seems to be the latest in a series of attacks waged by Ms. Nugent and some other descendants of Homer and Bill Stark for more than two decades.
Since their initial claims against Nelda Stark and the Stark Foundation in the 1980s, we believe Ms. Nugent and other family members with a similar agenda have engaged in a misguided quest to undermine the Foundation and smear the character of its founders and other key figures who provided significant contributions to the Foundation and our community for the past 50 years. Ms. Nugent’s latest effort is no different except that, after sustaining multiple losses in the courts of law, she has now moved to the court of public opinion to assert claims, many of
which were previously resolved between the parties and, in subsequent litigation, rejected by the courts.
Although Ms. Nugent characterizes her story as pertaining to her family history, her tale in large part concerns the Stark Foundation, a charitable organization established by Lutcher Stark and his wife, Nelda, in 1961 that continues today to actively operate charitable programs in the Orange area in furtherance of the philanthropic mission of its founders. Such mission includes enhancing the quality of life through venues, programs and activities that provide opportunities for study and enjoyment of the arts, history and nature. As programs of the Foundation, the Stark Museum of Art, The W.H. Stark House, and Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center are operated in furtherance of that mission and are open to the public at low or no cost.
These and other contributions of the Foundation are the result of the generosity, leadership and example of its founders, Nelda and Lutcher Stark. While extensive, such efforts have not always been clearly acknowledged or recognized. This is in part due to the preference for discretion and, often, anonymity on the part of its benefactors, especially Nelda Stark, who served as chairperson of the Foundation for more than 30 years after the death of her husband, Lutcher, in 1965.
Mrs. Stark was a private woman by nature and, even in matters where her generosity was much appreciated by various organizations and individuals throughout the community, she never sought recognition or publication of the good work and deeds she accomplished personally or through the Foundation, preferring instead to remain graciously silent. The Foundation adopted and has applied this same policy of discretion for nearly 50 years.
Instead of being seen as a commendable characteristic, however, Ms. Nugent has seemingly construed the preference of the Foundation and Mrs. Stark to avoid recognition as an indication of something dark and sinister. This could not be further from the truth.
The truth is that Mrs. Stark was an extremely private person, as a result of both her character and of her circumstances as an individual of considerable wealth. The truth is that the Foundation, as successor to Mrs. Stark, continued the approach of maintaining a low profile, remaining silent, and largely ignoring the attacks on it by outsiders such as from Ms. Nugent and her family members. But Ms. Nugent obviously has her own viewpoint to promote. Readers should challenge the inconsistencies of this book, question the motivations of its author and reach their own conclusions.
It is not a crime to be wealthy. It is not a crime to be private. It is not a crime to remain silent or prefer the background instead of the spotlight. It is a shame for Ms. Nugent to suggest otherwise and to take it upon herself to manufacture scandal in place of the Foundation’s deliberate silence. It is particularly regrettable that the legacy of Nelda and Lutcher Stark and those who have furthered it through the Foundation has been demeaned with unproven, unwarranted attacks and allegations.
One disturbing example is Ms. Nugent’s portrayal of Lutcher Stark — a man who was one of the most prominent citizens in the history of Orange — as a drug-induced zombie with no control over his personal or professional affairs in his later years. Interestingly, it was during those very years that Mr. Stark conducted some of the most significant business transactions of his career, including leading the expansion of industry (Chemical Row) in Orange, participating in efforts to deepen the Sabine River and, in turn, increase traffic at the Port of Orange and, of course, establishing and directing the Stark Foundation in its early years.
We believe Lutcher Stark would be outraged to learn that the pleasure he gained and solitude he sought during the time he spent in his beloved Shangri La has been perverted by Ms. Nugent’s salacious tale and seems to characterize it as nothing more than a prison cell. We think this portrayal alone insults everything Lutcher Stark stood for and speaks volumes as to Ms. Nugent’s lack of understanding of the man.
We believe such allegations disparage the Foundation and its founders, its current and past associates and employees, and individuals in the Orange community where the Foundation is situated and operates its programs. We also believe these false assertions disparage Ms. Nugent’s own family and, especially, cast a poor light on her father, Homer Stark. Many of us knew Homer Stark and have no doubt he would be mortified by his daughter’s book.
It is sad that, after the amount of time that has passed and the amount of prior litigation that has been pursued by the same disgruntled individuals to no avail, Ms. Nugent remains fixated on the Foundation and its founders. We believe her repeated attacks on the integrity of a private foundation is the result of nothing more than a misguided sense of entitlement coupled with an utter rejection of the philanthropic choices made by Lutcher Stark.
She seems to completely ignore the positive impact that the Foundation has had on the lives of countless thousands of people over the years, whether directly as employees, volunteers, program supporters, patrons, grantees, scholarship recipients, and others or indirectly as beneficiaries of Foundation programs and funding, including those who live in and visit Orange.
We as directors, along with the officers and employees of the Foundation, are charged with carrying out the philanthropic mission Nelda and Lutcher Stark set forth nearly 50 years ago. This includes defending and protecting the Foundation from baseless attacks by the author, who seems to resent its existence and covet its resources. To this end, this Board will not stand idly by while Ms. Nugent spreads a contrived version of history.
It is the objective of this Board to rebut any and all declarations by Ms. Nugent against the Foundation, its officers, employees, volunteers, supporters, grantees, and any other representatives. Because the tales in her book are so numerous and vary so greatly from what we know to be the truth, we are prevented by space constraints from directly addressing and refuting them on this page. Instead, a website will be created with specific responses to numerous assertions in the Nugent tale, including supporting documentation.
We invite you to visit www.thestarktruth.org for the facts as well as additional information on the Foundation and its founders. Contrary to Ms. Nugent’s story, the truth is that Nelda and Lutcher Stark were private, yet generous, individuals who chose to share the bulk of their resources with the Orange community through a charitable organization — the Stark Foundation.
We are honored to be affiliated with such a fine organization and take very seriously the duties and responsibilities with which we are charged as its directors, which is the ultimate oversight and governance of the Foundation in accordance with its bylaws. Each of us, as members of the Foundation’s Board of Directors, is proud of what the Stark Foundation represents, what it has accomplished and what it will accomplish in the future.
Going forward, we will be more vocal about what the Foundation does, including the upcoming celebration of its 50th anniversary, during which we will spotlight its significant contributions to and enhancement of the Orange community over the past 50 years. In the meantime, this Board will continue to focus Foundation efforts, energies and resources on the betterment of the Orange community and surrounding region through the numerous charitable programs that the Foundation operates and the grants and scholarships that it provides.
Respectfully, The Stark Foundation Board of Directors:
Ruby Wimberley, Chair
John Cash Smith, Vice Chair
Debbie Hughes, Secretary
Clyde V. “Tad” McKee III, Treasurer/CFO
Walter G. Riedel III, President/CEO
James R. Dunaway
R. Fred Gregory, M.D.
Laurence R. David