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Vero Beach philanthropist Richard Stark dies at 94


Vero Beach lost one of its most dedicated champions with the passing of philanthropist Richard “Dick” Stark last week. An ardent supporter of the arts and a passionate advocate for the homeless, Stark passed away at his John’s Island home in the early morning hours of October 6 at the age of 94. 

“People like Dick come around once in a lifetime. He was a real renaissance man,” said Treasure Coast Homeless Services Council Executive Director, Louise Hubbard. Stark founded the organization and remained its board chairman, working closely with Hubbard to develop it into the lead agency for the Continuum of Care for Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties.  

“A whole generation of people have had their lives made better because of his selflessness,” added Hubbard. “He always did the right thing to improve the quality of life for people he would likely never know and likely never see. And he did it all with such energy and genuine humility; a rare quality in a human being. I will miss our champion.”

Stark was predeceased by his wife of 67 years, Barbara, who died on Sept. 12, 2011, just 10 years and one day after his remarkable 9/11 escape from the rubble of the World Trade Center Marriott Hotel after the collapse of the South Tower. He was fortunate to meet and in 2013 marry the second love of his life, Diana Dee Osbahr Stark, who survives him. 

Dick and Barbara Stark lived on Long Island for 38 years before joining a large contingent of Garden City friends who had moved to Vero Beach. After initially purchasing a seasonal home in The Moorings in 1978, they relocated permanently to John’s Island in 1990 following his retirement from a 42-year career as an attorney with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. 

Stark quickly became immersed in all Vero Beach had to offer, while also working to enhance the community for future generations wherever he saw a need. 

His name graces the Stark Main Stage at Riverside Theatre and the Stark Gallery at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, and both the museum’s Leonhardt Auditorium and the theater’s Leonhardt Administration Wing were named as a result of financial contributions he secured through his connections at the Dorothea L. Leonhardt Foundation and the Dorothea Leonhardt Fund at Communities Foundation of Texas.  

“With the passing of Dick Stark, the Vero Beach Museum of Art has lost a great patron and tireless community leader. His generosity of time and resources are legendary, as are his grace and intelligence,” said Lucinda Gedeon, VBMA CEO. Stark had been a Chairman’s Club member since 1989 and served many years on the board, including as board chairman from 1997 to 1999. “The Museum has been fortunate and honored to claim Dick as one of its most enlightened patrons of the arts. He loved the Museum and took pride in seeing it grow and develop over the past years. We will miss him terribly.”

Stark was equally supportive of Riverside Theatre as a Patron Producer, Benefactor member and serving on its board since 1999, as well as annually sponsoring the Riverside Children’s Theatre Festival of Trees.

“He never missed a show – either on the professional or children’s stages,” said Kate Gill, Riverside’s development director. “He attended everything. He was just an exceptional human being.”

“Dick Stark loved Riverside Theatre,” said Producing Artistic Director/CEO Allen Cornell. “He played a major role in shaping the institution that this major cultural resource has become for the Vero community. His intelligent and generous nature was embodied in the figure of a true gentleman. Each and every time the curtain rises on the Stark Stage, Dick's spirit will forever light up our lives.”

“Dick Stark was a great friend and mentor. His passion for Riverside was evident in his dedication and generosity,” remembered Heidi Waxlax. “I became an active member and president of the board of trustees due to his nurturing leadership. I will delight in his accomplishments every time I enjoy performances on the Stark Stage.”

Pam Stuart’s parents, J. Raymond and Marion Stuart, were among the Starks’ Garden City friends who relocated to Vero Beach, as were my own, James and Elizabeth Schenkel. And, as he did for me, Stark willingly took on the role of surrogate father upon the death of her parents. 

“Dick Stark's genius will benefit Vero Beach for years to come. Evidence of his love of our town and its people is everywhere,” said Stuart. “I was delighted when he found love again in the persona of the lovely and fun Diana Osbahr. Their marriage in April 2013 was the source of great joy to both of them. Diana could not have been more supportive of all of Dick's activities and made Dick so happy in the years they were together.”

"He meant everything to me; we treasured every day together,” said wife Diana Stark. “He was so full of life, tenderness and love that he touched the souls of everyone who knew him.” 

With his soft-spoken demeanor and genuine smile, Stark had a unique ability to draw people into his world, giving them all a sense of purpose and importance. He employed those skills well while serving in a variety of positions in the John’s Island community as well as a host of other nonprofit boards over the years, including the Cultural Council, Vero Beach Opera, and Camp Haven, humbly receiving innumerable awards and honors for all he contributed to the town he loved.

“After Dick survived the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11, I thought there was a Dick Stark exception to all life-threatening events for him,” added Stuart. “Sadly, he has left us finally, but his good works will live on forever.”

Dick is survived by five children, 14 grandchildren, soon to be 12 great-grandchildren, and a sister, as well as 6 step-children and 13 step-grandchildren through wife Diana.

A Celebration of His Life will be held at the Community Church of Vero Beach at 3 p.m. Nov. 14.