Elk NetworkConservation is Thicker than Blood

Volunteer News | October 23, 2020
Jacque and Bryan Stark’s family spirit helped build Tucson into RMEF’s highest‑earning chapter. But that’s just one small part of why they are receiving the Wallace Fennell Pate Award, RMEF’s highest conservation honor.

They’re kind of like the mom and dad of the Tucson Chapter,” says Troy Sweet about volunteers Jacque and Bryan Stark. “They watch over everyone.” Now RMEF director of southwest operations, Sweet has known the Starks and watched them deliver for more than a decade.

If you mapped out all the people Jacque and Bryan Stark have “adopted” into their RMEF brood over the years, it would look like a family tree—branching out to every distant relative and every long-term employee in the very successful electrical business they built from the ground up.

For many years they’ve paid for 70 annual sponsor memberships as well as a handful of life memberships for family, friends and employees who attend the Tucson banquet. They love bringing more and more people into the RMEF family.

“I can’t even think of a nephew-in-law of theirs that’s not a life member,” says Arizona senior regional director Ron Pittman, who is happy to count himself among the Stark’s adopted flock.

The family atmosphere the Starks have helped build within the Tucson Chapter and across Arizona draws people in.

“They’re so welcoming to anyone who comes into the RMEF, people stand in line just to be a part of it,” says long-time friend Jesse Shelton. He met the Starks on a deer hunt 18 years ago, and they quickly pulled him into RMEF, too. “The reason I’m an RMEF life member, to be honest with you, is they got me involved with it,” he says.

The Starks joined RMEF in the mid-nineties and first made a small donation to a Tucson Chapter golf tournament. Then they increased their commitment in 2005 when they volunteered to serve on the Tuscon Chapter committee. Over the 15 years since, they’ve grown to become two of Arizona’s largest donors in both time and resources.

Bryan has added a lot of people to the RMEF family through the relationships he’s built within Stark Electric. At banquets he happily completes any task that needs doing.

“He’s willing to sweep the floors and set up tables and also go out and talk to big donors,” says Sweet. “He knows how to talk to all different types of people from laborers to CEOs.”

When Jacque joined the Tucson Committee, it was clear yet another force of nature had arrived. She currently serves as merchandise chair, a role she’s filled for almost 10 years. She has a knack for finding unique auction items that aren’t in RMEF’s banquet merchandise catalogue, meticulously searching for new additions throughout the year using contacts she’s built across the nation.

This talent has helped rocket the Tucson Chapter banquet attendance to 1,200 people a year, with net earnings of over $500,000 annually for the past 10 years, making Tucson RMEF’s highest-earning chapter ever. They’ve racked up $6.5 million in cumulative net revenue to support RMEF’s conservation work.

Troy Sweet describes Jacque as “super-efficient, frugal and the consummate mom.”

Her motherly instincts extend to all RMEF endeavors, but most of all to her two sons and her appropriately-named black Labrador, Bugle, which she purchased at an RMEF Elk Camp in Las Vegas.

“My mom’s the one that keeps us all together. She’s the center of everything,” says 34-year-old Robert Stark. “We sometimes call her ‘The Godmother,’ because she’s in charge.”

RMEF is so deeply ingrained in the Starks’ DNA that they’ve passed their passion to their kids. “We’ve been going to Elk Camp since we were little kids and always trying to go to a couple banquets a year,” says their other son Wesley, 30. Both Robert and Wesley have stepped up to serve in various roles for RMEF. In 2008, Wesley became the youngest ticket chair in Arizona at age 18. Both boys became RMEF life members in their teens, and they enjoy helping with second events like golf tournaments and gun bashes.

“It’s always been part of our lives, going to the banquets and now being part of running them,” Robert says.

The Starks are impressively generous to their RMEF family in measurable ways, like routinely buying and underwriting merchandise for the Tucson banquet with their own money, but they also contribute in a bunch of subtler ways. They host regional director Ron Pittman at their house when he visits Tucson—typically once a month—saving RMEF an estimated $1,500-2,000 a year in hotel bills. “I have my own room in their house,” says Pittman. “People laugh, but I do.”

The help they give also extends well beyond their beloved Tucson Chapter. They attend several banquets throughout Arizona each year, usually at the Prescott, White Mountain and Flagstaff Chapters. They show up the morning of the event to help the committee set up. Then they circle back that night ready to fuel bidding wars and spend cash at the auction. “They always buy a table and they bring the people who in turn spend money too,” says Pittman.

Jacque and Bryan also spread the mission nationwide by volunteering at RMEF booths at events such as the Professional Bull Riders Finals and National Finals Rodeo. And if they can’t make it, they pay for plane tickets to send other volunteers.

So far the Starks have invested heavily in RMEF, earning them Silver Benefactor status in the Habitat Partners recognition program and membership in the Habitat Council, a program for those who’ve cumulatively donated more than $10,000.

Like many chapters, Tucson had to cancel their banquet this year due to COVID-19. Jacque and Bryan purchased tables, meals and raffle tickets beforehand, but rather than getting refunded, they put some of that cash toward additional raffle tickets and donated the rest.

The only other thing the Starks tackle with as much zeal as they do RMEF is their hunting and fishing adventures. “They both like elk hunting a bunch, and they want to see our future generations have the opportunity to go elk hunting like they have,” says Wesley. Each of the four Starks has shot a giant bull elk, with Bryan currently in the lead with biggest bull—over 400 inches—in the family’s     good-natured competition.

Despite all they do for RMEF and elk country, the Starks avoid being singled out for recognition whenever they can. They are always the first people to point out that the Tucson committee as a whole is responsible for the success of their chapter, not just any one or two individuals. They won’t even let Pittman present donor recognition plaques to them at banquets, as is customary. Instead, he gives them their plaques in private.

“They volunteer and give because they love to do it, not so they can put a plaque on the wall,” says Pittman. It’s this kind of attitude that makes them just that much more deserving of the Wallace Fennell Pate Award.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the Starks’ cabin in the White Mountains on Saturday, August 22. With 30 of their committee members around them and a special commemorative video playing, Jacque and Bryan were presented with the award. True to form, they stressed that they accepted it on behalf of the entire Tucson committee. “It’s really just a big family. We’re just a small piece of the puzzle,” says Jacque.

“It’s very, very humbling,” says Bryan. “There are so many people that do so much for this organization. How we got chosen—it’s beyond our expectations, but it’s very much appreciated.”