American Legion commander remembered for hard work

Published 6:47 pm Tuesday, December 10, 2013



There’s a single personality trait that friends and family use to describe longtime American Legion commander Lawrence Starrett: honor.

The Dowagiac man served as the head of the City’s Legion Post #563 for more than 30 years. The command was one of several different veteran organizations that Starrett devoted nearly entirety of his life toward.

“That’s all he knew,” said Clarawayne Wolford, Starett’s eldest daughter. “Everything with him was always ‘veterans this, veterans that.’ He was a very hardworking person.”

Starrett died Wednesday, Dec. 4, at the Timbers of Cass County in Dowagiac, after battling to multiple illnesses. He was 87 years old.

Born on Jan. 30, 1926, Starrett served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Throughout his years of service, he earned a number of different medals, including the World War II Victory Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal, one Overseas Service Bar and a Purple Heart.

Starrett married Mary Schoff of Dowagiac on Aug. 10, 1945, with whom he raised their seven children.

“He raised all us to have morals and respect,” Wolford said. “He was a very good dad, very stern but very good.”

After his completing his service in the Army, Starrett went to work at the Franklin & Son Scrapyard in Dowagiac, where he worked until 1973, when injuries sustained in an industrial accident forced him to go on disability.

However, it was his service to the community, especially toward his fellow veterans, that defined the majority of his life. Starrett became known around the city for contributions toward the annual Memorial Day Parade, which he organized for many years.

“He started organizing the event when I was 16 years old, and he ran it for quite a long time,” Wolford said. “It was just me and him working on it, inviting units, running ads for it in the paper.”

Wolford, who now runs a local electrical wiring company with her husband, said she worked the closest with her father on the numerous veteran outreach programs he was involved in.

“It was basically me and him who worked on these projects, since I was the oldest,” she said. “I just thought the world of my dad, he couldn’t do any wrong in my eyes.”

Starrett was a member of the local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans. However, it was in his more than three decades as post commander of the American Legion where he made the biggest impact on the Dowagiac community.

“Every year, he would always throw a nice Christmas party for the veterans,” Wolford said. “Him and the other guys would take care of all the cooking and preparations, so that all the guests had to do was sit down and enjoy the meal.”

Starrett continued to help organize events for his post even during the later years of his life. In 2004, the veteran rented a bus to take a number of the Legion’s members down to Washington, D.C., to visit the dedication of the national World War II memorial.

“It was so beautiful, seeing the monument together with him and the others,” Wolford said.

As his health began to deteriorate, Wolford took over her father’s responsibilities to the post. However, the location was eventually forced to shut down.

“I couldn’t let it go, since the Legion meant so much to him,” Wolford said.

The post has been revived, with Starrett’s son, also named Lawrence, taking over command.

Despite how closely the two worked together, Wolford said she still isn’t sure what exactly drove her father to devote so much of his time toward his fellow veterans.

“He was finally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder when he was 83 years old,” Wolford said. “I think he wanted to see other veterans get what they were entitled to, since he never did.”