Henry Jacob Lutcher Stark was a prominent businessman and philanthropist whose contributions to the community of Orange, Texas, in the early and mid 1900s continue to impact the city today. He was born in Orange on December 8, 1887, to Miriam Melissa Lutcher Stark and William Henry (“W.H.”) Stark. He had one sister, Frances (Fannie) Ann Stark, who died as a young child. He was the grandson of Henry Jacob Lutcher and his wife, Frances Ann Lutcher.
Lutcher Stark attended public school in Orange and graduated from the University of Texas in 1910 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He became active in banking, insurance, manufacturing, real estate and the petroleum industry; however, he was best known for his contributions to the lumber industry through the successful Lutcher & Moore Lumber Company founded by his grandfather, Henry Jacob Lutcher.
In 1919, Governor William P. Hobby appointed Lutcher Stark to the University of Texas Board of Regents, a position previously held by Lutcher Stark’s father. Lutcher Stark served on the board for a total of 24 years, including 12 years as chairman. Stark has been credited with naming the university’s mascot – the Longhorn. His name was added to the University’s Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1958. In the fall of 2009, the University of Texas will open the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports as part of its renovation of the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, in recognition of Lutcher Stark’s long relationship with the university during his lifetime.
An active member in the community, Stark was a charter member of the Orange Rotary and a member of the Boy Scouts of America, the National Association of Audubon Society, the Iris Society of Louisiana, and the Texas Ornithological Society. He also sponsored the development and activities at local Orange schools, including the Bengal Guards, the Bengal Lancers, and the Lutcher Stark Boys Band.
Stark was also awarded two honorary doctor of laws degrees, one from Baylor University in 1933 and the other from Southwestern University, Memphis, Tennessee, in 1938. In 1963, Stark received a distinguished service award from Texas Woman’s University.
Lutcher Stark married Nita Hill of Austin, Texas, on April 6, 1911, and they later adopted twin boys, Homer B.H. Stark and William H. Stark II. Nita Hill Stark died on October 11, 1939. Stark thereafter married Ruby Childers, on April 6, 1941. She died on July 12, 1942. He then married Ruby’s sister, Nelda Childers, on December 16, 1943.
Together, Nelda and Lutcher Stark actively collected crystal, porcelain, and rare botanical books and prints. They also acquired a significant collection of American Western art, with a focus on Southwestern artists. Nature was another passion of Lutcher Stark, and this love led him to create Shangri La Botanical Gardens in Orange, Texas, in the 1940s. The gardens were open to the public and featured azaleas, Stark’s favorite flower, as well as wildlife such as swans, ducks, and egrets. The gardens closed in 1958 after being devastated by a major ice storm.
In 1961, Lutcher Stark, together with his wife, Nelda, established the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, a private operating foundation that aims to improve the quality of life in Southeast Texas by encouraging, promoting, and assisting education, the arts, and health and human services. Stark served as chairman until his death on September 2, 1965.
Upon his death, the bulk of Lutcher Stark’s estate passed to the Stark Foundation, which thereafter established the Stark Museum of Art, constructed the Frances Ann Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts, and restored The W.H. Stark House. The Foundation also restored and reopened in 2008 the gardens originally developed by Lutcher Stark in the 1940s – now known as Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center – in order to further its educational mission as well as carry on the vision of Lutcher Stark. All of these venues are open to the public in fulfilling the charitable mandate of the Foundation that bears Lutcher Stark’s name.
The Stark Foundation today continues the philanthropic legacy of Lutcher Stark and his wife, Nelda, through the programs of the Stark Museum of Art, The W.H. Stark House, the Lutcher Theater, and Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, as well as through the support of charitable programming in and around Southeast Texas.