Starr Commonwealth Records

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Starr Commonwealth records

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger Starr Commonwealth record group held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the collection's online finding aid.

Researchers may also be interested in the Starr Commonwealth Web Archives.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Organization dedicated to outreach, education, and intervention for troubled youth located in Albion, Michigan. Correspondence, administrative records, photographs, videocassettes, audiocassettes, digital files and publications.

The founder of Starr Commonwealth, Floyd Eliot Starr was born in Decatur, Michigan in 1883 and raised in Marshall, Michigan, graduating from Marshall High School in 1902. His interest in assisting troubled youth developed at an early age and developed into a passion that would become his life’s work. Following his graduation from Albion College in 1910, Starr worked at the Beulah Farm Boys’ Character Factory where he gained experienced working with juveniles. When the head of Beulah stepped down shortly, Starr was put in charge of the organization.

After the Beulah facility was closed, Starr was inspired to try and find a new home for the boys and purchased a tract of land on Montcalm Lake in Albion, Michigan. Starr Commonwealth was founded on October 3, 1913 when the campus’ first house, “Gladsome Cottage”, was officially opened. By 1915, the facility had over two dozen students and had built a one room schoolhouse to ensure the charges properly educated. Starr Commonwealth successfully navigated the challenges of the Great Depression and two World Wars and continued to expand the range and level of services it provided. In 1951, Starr Commonwealth established new branch facilities in Jackson, Michigan and Van Wert, Ohio in addition to the original Albion campus.

All of the Starr Commonwealth facilities were based on Floyd Starr’s core philosophy that “there is no such thing as a bad boy” which formed the basis of the Starr Commonwealth creed. Starr believed if children received love, structure and guidance, they would become productive members of society. Starr developed a “strength-based peer group empowerment model” that focused on the mental, physical and spiritual development of students. To guide his charges, Starr created a structured routine to improve the character of his students based on a detailed manual for proper manners and behavior. While students were directly supervised by “house parents” who lived with them in their cottages, they relied on “Uncle Floyd” as a source of advice and emotional support.

Floyd Starr retired as president in 1967 and Dr. Larry Brendtro was named the second president of Starr Commonwealth. After his retirement, Starr served as President Emeritus and continued to be closely involved in the operations of the organization until his death in 1980 at the age of 97. Many gathered to celebrate Starr and express their gratitude for the lives he had touched.

Starr Commonwealth continued to grow under the leadership of Dr. Larry Brendtro and developed new partnerships with other local child welfare organizations, including the Hannah Neil Center in Columbus, Ohio. The Hannah Neil Center eventually merged with Starr Commonwealth in 1980. Brendtro was a leader in the field of child development, contributing to many national committees and publications that helped strengthen the reputation of Starr Commonwealth.

Brendtro was succeeded by Arlin Ness upon his retirement in 1981. Ness brought years of experience working in social services, corrections and dealing with juvenile delinquents to the office of president. His leadership led Starr Commonwealth to found new facilities in Detroit (1987), Battle Creek (1997), the Montcalm School for Boy (2000) and the Montcalm School for Girls in Van Wert, Ohio (2004). Ness stepped down in 2003 and Starr Commonwealth appointed Dr. Martin Mitchell as its new president.

Mitchell had over thirty years of experience with Starr Commonwealth and helped shape a new strategic direction for the organization. He oversaw the creation of the Starr Global Learning Network to train professionals in child welfare strategies and the establishment of behavioral health programs across Michigan. Under Mitchell, Starr also created charter school programs in Detroit and established a strategic plan to increase the range and number of children served each year.

In 2015, Mitchell stepped down as president and was replaced by the Chief Strategy Officer of Starr Commonwealth, Elizabeth Carey. Carey has continued to further the strategic initiatives established under Mitchell to help ensure Starr Commonwealth continues to be a national leader in the juvenile development and rehabilitation field. Today Starr Commonwealth has locations in Albion, Battle Creek, and Detroit, Michigan where it provides residential programs, in-home mental health services, youth assistance programs and a wide range of training programs through the Starr Global Learning Network.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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