James “Jim” Ervin Starks, 78, of Powell, passed away on Feb. 6, 2023. He was preceded in death by his parents Margaret Monet Altum and Floyd Henry Starks, his sister Linda Ross, and his grandson Jared Lane Smith. He is survived by his wife of 52 years Rachel Marie Goins Starks; his brother George Starks; his children Carmen Michelle (Ryan) Smith, James Eric (Angel Johnson) Starks, and Kristy Leanne Starks-Winn (Chris Winn); eleven grandchildren: Christopher Chad Poston, Jeffrey Lance (Brittany Norman) Smith, Benjamin Michael (Taylor Donohoe) Smith, Garrett Alastair Smith, Jules Xavia Smith, Makayli Marie Starks (Jesse) Moystner, Bayley James Starks, Bryley Gene Starks, Justin Tyler Winn, Clara Mae Winn, and Lily Leanne Winn; and seven great-grandchildren: David, Alex, and Buffy Smith; Duncan, Graham, and Tucker Norman; and Tide Jameson Moystner.
Jim was born in Savannah, Ga., and lived out his early years in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., and Ben Salem, Penn. He was a high school wrestling champion, earning a place in the Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, and was offered a full ride to Brown University because of his athletic prowess. But, much to his mother’s dismay, he turned it down to join the military. His athletic talent came in handy later in life, though. He became coach of a little league wrestling team sponsored by the Graysville Fire Department. In that role he shaped the lives of dozens of young boys, including his own son, who became a wrestling champ in his own right. Known for being tough and very loud, Jim was also funny and loving as a mentor and a coach, and was beloved by his wrestlers and their families.
As a father, Jim shared his love for the outdoors with his family. He enjoyed camping on the lake each summer, sitting on the porch bird-watching, or searching for constellations in the sky at night. He was raised in the Catholic faith, and he and Rachel instilled in their children the importance of daily prayer and a deep respect for God. In his final days, he was ministered to by Fr. Billy Daniel of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Knoxville, where his daughter is a member.
Jim attended the University of Tennessee Knoxville and studied physical education after his military service. His love of the Vols created a legacy; he insisted his youngest daughter get her degree there, one grandson graduated from there, and two granddaughters are current UT students. Jim followed in his father’s footsteps and became a pipefitter by trade, retiring from Plumbers and Steamfitters Local Union 43 in 2000 after working for 27 years with TVA. He retired early to care for Rachel, whom he called his best buddy, after she was injured on the job. From that point on, the two were practically inseparable, enjoying steak dinners, shopping, the occasional movie, and especially, visits with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Jim never saw a baby he didn’t love.
Other than his family, Jim was most proud of his service in the U.S. Marine Corp during the Vietnam War. As USMC Sergeant his job in the war was to oversee and protect classified documents. He once spent six hours burning sensitive materials because he believed they’d been compromised by the Viet Cong, only to find out later that he’d been pranked by his fellow soldiers. He frequently talked about the Vietnamese children they befriended while stationed there. Jim was honorably discharged in 1966 after serving four years and earning the Good Conduct Medal, the Viet Nam Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.
A patriot to his death, Jim was profoundly concerned about the direction of the nation after the 2016 presidential election and the four years that followed. He strongly advocated for an end to the hateful rhetoric that he believed is tearing America apart, and he prayed for political leaders to wake up and realize that communication and compromise is the best path forward for the nation he served and loved his whole life long.
Receiving of friends will be at Mynatt Funeral Home Fountain City on Wednesday, Feb. 15 from 5-7 p.m. Committal services with full military honors will be at East Tennessee Veterans Cemetery Thursday, Feb. 16 at 2 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a charity that was close to his heart.