orangeleader.com (Orange, Texas)

Local News

March 18, 2010

Stark descendant authors family tell-all book

ORANGE — Nearly as fast as the shipments are coming in, a new tell-all book about Orange County’s rich and powerful Stark family is flying off the shelves in Bridge City.

Penned by Rebecca “Becky” Stark Nugent under her father’s birth name Frank Mills, the book is a page-turner filled with allegations of drugs, government corruption and whispered rumors of murder.

“To say the book is filled with shocking allegations is putting it mildly,” Nugent said.

“If The Devil Had a Wife,” is billed as a true Texas tale of buried family secrets told for the first time from the family’s viewpoint.

The author will be in Bridge City Friday at Bayou Trading Company on Texas Avenue for book signing from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m.

“Everything in the book is true, or it is my opinion based on boxes and boxes of documentation, years of research and accounts of people who knew my family and strangers who had information to share,” Nugent said from her home in Bryan-College Station. “It is not written with any kind of malice or bitterness. It is a story about our family written by our family.”

While Nugent describes her Texas Tale as true, representatives of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation see it differently. The Stark Foundation was established as a nonprofit corporation in 1961 by H.J. Lutcher Stark and his wife, Nelda C. Stark, to be operated exclusively for charitable and educational purposes.

In a press release issued on behalf of the Stark Foundation, President and Chief Executive Officer Walter G. Riedel III said a more accurate description of Nugent’s book is that of a “Tall Texas Tale,” or at best, “far-fetched fiction.”

“Regrettably, for more than 20 years, Ms. Nugent and other Stark family members have engaged in a misguided quest to undermine the Stark Foundation and smear the character of its founders, Nelda and Lutcher Stark, and other key figures who provided significant contributions to both the Foundation and the greater Orange community for a considerable part of the 20th century. The latest tale is no different,” according to the press release.

Nugent said her family is glad to finally be able to tell the story hidden behind the public facade.

Growing up in Orange during the 1950s and 1960s, Nugent didn’t know how powerful her grandfather was, or how many secrets the family would take with them to the grave.

“I was pretty much clueless until I was about 13 years old,” she said.

The granddaughter of H.J. Lutcher Stark and his first wife, Nita, Nugent said she first became interested in her family’s story about 13 years ago when she was in Orange staying with her father, Homer Stark, while he was recovering from surgery.

Nugent said her cousin offered a remedy to her boredom: Looking through about 170 boxes in one of the family’s storage units.

“I had been told there was not much important in the boxes, just family things,” she said. “From the very first box I was fascinated.”

It didn’t take long poring over the contents before Nugent noticed conflicting information from what she had been told as a child.

“Once I started looking in the boxes, I started thinking something was not quite right,” she said. “Then the farther along I got I would find something that would contradict what I saw the first time.”

Those suspicions started a 13-year journey to find the long-buried truth. Her research led to gruesome discoveries about her grandfather’s third wife, Nelda, she said.

“I was always led to believe she was a nurse because she carried a black bag at all times,” she said. “All the press releases written about her say she is a nurse, but what I found out was she had a degree in education, not nursing.”

The Texas Woman’s University school of nursing in Houston was even named after Nelda Stark, she said.

Lutcher Stark married Nita Hill of Austin on April 6, 1911. The couple later adopted twin boys — Nugent’s father Homer B.H. Stark and William H. Stark II. Nita Hill Stark died on Oct. 11, 1939. Stark married Ruby Childers, his longtime secretary, on April 6, 1941. She died on July 12, 1942. A year and a half later, on December 16, 1943, Lutcher Stark married Ruby’s sister, Nelda Childers.

Oddly enough, or perhaps tragically, her grandfather’s first two wives died while in the care of Nelda Stark, Nugent said.

Readers will learn her grandfather’s far-reaching influence. The lumber industry tycoon sit on the University of Texas Board of Regents for 24 years and is credited with naming the University’s mascot — the longhorn.

Since the book was published in February, Nugent said she has been surprised by the interest.

“The number one question I get asked is, ‘What was in the black bag,’” she said.

Nugent offered a hint of the bags content when she shared some of the book’s salacious tales.

“I think the saddest thing to me is how Nelda locked my grandfather up in Shangri-La during the day. She would give him Phenobarbital, take him to Shangri-La and leave him there like a prisoner. He would have been about 70 at the time, and he’d be left there to walk around, roaming around the bayous in a trance like state,” Nugent said.

More than anything, Nugent said writing the book has brought closure to her entire family.

“If you read this book, I think it will show if you have a lot of money it can be dangerous,” she said.

The book is available at the Bayou Trading Company, or can be purchased on Amazon.com.

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