When recounting the life of Thomas Stark, a lifelong Riverhead resident who died Sunday at the age of 89, one might wonder where to start, since he did so many interesting things.
He was a state supreme Court judge, a Riverhead town councilman, a school board member, a historian, a musician, an author, an Eagle Scout and a World War II Navy veteran — among so many other things.
“There was never a moment where he just sat and daydreamed, he was always moving,” said former town supervisor Jim Stark, his first cousin.
During his 29 years with the state Supreme Court, Judge Stark presided over several high-profile cases.
In 1974, he sentenced Ronald DeFeo Jr., who was convicted of murdering six family members in their Amityville home, to six consecutive jail terms of 25 years to life. The next family that moved into the Amityville house claimed it was haunted and the story became a book, and then a movie, called “The Amityville Horror.”
At the time of his death, the judge was working on his own publication about the “Amityville Horror” and three other notable cases. That book, which hasn’t been released, is titled “Horrific Homicides.”
The book was nearly finished when he died and his daughters, Ellen Stark and Beth Stark Dugan, say they plan to published it by the end of the year.
Judge Stark also presided over the 1996 LILCO tax assessment challenge, in which LILCO claimed the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant was over-assessed by Brookhaven Town.
The judge ruled the plant was over-assessed and that Brookhaven Town, the Shoreham-Wading River School District and Suffolk County owed LILCO $1.1 billion.
“I’m responsible for everyone’s electric bill in Suffolk County now,” he told The News-Review in a 2008 interview. He pointed out, however, that as part of the eventual settlement, LILCO was required to drop tax challenges on all of its other Long Island plants.
Riverhead Town historian Georgette Case pointed out that Judge Stark also presided over the trial of a man accused of murdering Joseph Kelly, who had served as Riverhead Town supervisor from 1942 to 1955.
Following his retirement from the bench, the judge turned historian and began work on the local history book “Riverhead: The Halcyon Years 1861-1919,” which was published in 2005.
He told The News-Review in 2005 that he began this book, about a prosperous period in town history, by taking handwritten notes on legal pads at the Suffolk County Historical Society and Riverhead Free Library. He spent two and a half years on the project.
“When I volunteered at the Suffolk County Historical Society, he was over there for weeks and weeks copying information from the newspaper for his book,” Ms. Case recalled.
Even before his retirement from the bench, Judge Stark was interested in history. In 1972, he compiled a Stark family genealogy, starting with his great-grandfather, John Stark, a German immigrant who was a farmer in Baiting Hollow in the 1840s. His genealogy traced 170 living descendants of his great-grandfather. Jim Stark said his family members still enjoy reading that book and seeing where all their ancestors came from.
The extended family will always remember Judge Stark as a man with varied interests.
“When he was younger, scouting was a big part of his life,” his daughter Ellen said. An Eagle Scout and a scout leader, he received the Silver Beaver award, given to troop leaders who have had an impact on the lives of youth.
He also was very involved in the Riverhead Lions Club and served as master of ceremonies and musical director for its talent show. He played both violin and viola and was in a string quartet at Riverhead High School. He also played the cornet and performed duets with Ellen, who played the clarinet.
Judge Stark was also active in Riverhead’s St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church, writing about church history and serving on its parish council.
“There were many facets to his life,” Jim Stark said. “He was a great man, he loved his family and he loved the history of this town.”