Nelda Childers Stark was a prominent businesswoman and philanthropist in Orange, Texas, who, along with her husband. Henry Jacob Lutcher Stark, made significant and lasting contributions to the community. She was born in Orange, Texas, on February 19, 1909, to James P. and Mary Martha Litchfield Childers.
She attended public schools in Orange and graduated from the College of Industrial Arts (now known as Texas Woman’s University) in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. She later served as administrator of the Frances Ann Lutcher Hospital in Orange.
Nelda Childers Stark was an alumna, former regent and long-time benefactor of Texas Woman’s University (TWU). She was named to the Board of Regents of TWU (then known as Texas State College for Women) in 1955 and served on that board for 20 years, including six years as vice chair. In 1957, she received the first honorary degree ever awarded by TWU for “singularly and exceptionally high civic and humanitarian achievements.” In 1966, TWU regents named a residence hall for Nelda Stark in recognition of her service and generosity to the university and, in 2006, TWU named the new college of nursing at its Institute of Health Sciences – Houston Center as the Nelda C. Stark College of Nursing.
Nelda Childers married Henry Jacob (H.J.) Lutcher Stark on December 16, 1943. Together, they actively collected crystal, porcelain, and rare botanical books and prints. They also acquired a significant collection of Western art, with a focus on Southwestern artists.
In 1961, Nelda and her husband, Lutcher, 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. Nelda C. Stark served as chairperson of the Stark Foundation following her husband’s death in 1965 until her death in 1999.
Under Nelda C. Stark’s direction, the Foundation established the Stark Museum of Art, which opened on November 29, 1978. The Museum features works from the Starks’ collection and continues to grow the collection today. During Nelda Stark’s leadership, the Foundation also constructed the Frances Ann Lutcher Theater for the Performing Arts, which held its first show in 1980, and restored The W.H. Stark House – the childhood home of her husband, H.J. Lutcher Stark, and his parents – which has been open to the public for guided tours since 1980. Nelda Stark also supervised the development of Stark Park, located in Orange, Texas.
Nelda Childers Stark died on December 13, 1999, and passed the bulk of her personal estate to the Stark Foundation, which continues the philanthropic legacy of Nelda Stark and her husband, Lutcher, through the programs of the Stark Museum of Art, The W.H. Stark House, the Lutcher Theater, and the recently-reopened Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center, as well as through the support of charitable programming in and around Southeast Texas.