Former Riverhead supervisor James Stark dies at 78

Jim Stark pictured in 2007. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)
James Stark pictured in 2007. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Former Riverhead Supervisor James R. Stark died Tuesday at Peconic Bay Medical Center where he was being treated for lung cancer. He was 78.

Mr. Stark served as town supervisor from 1996 to 1997 and was acting supervisor in 1995 when then-Supervisor Joe Janoski was ill. 

Mr. Stark also was a town councilman, from 1990 to 1995.

He later made another run for supervisor in 2007, but fell short.

Asked at the time why he was running again, he said in a News-Review interview, “Because I have a passion for this town. A love for this town.”

Born in Greenport to William C. and Mary (Legere) Stark on May 29, 1936, Mr. Stark attended Riverhead schools before graduating high school from La Salle Military Academy in Oakdale. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Villanova University, and then served his country in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged in 1960.

He was the owner of Storage Town East, Inc. and was president of Farmers Exchange Co., Inc., a wholesale produce company, from 1970 to 1998.

After he left elected office, Mr. Stark worked as an assistant to the Suffolk County economic development commissioner from July 1998 to February 1999.

Mr. Stark was also past president of the Riverhead Kiwanis, a member of the Elks Lodge 2044, a former member of the Central Suffolk Hospital (now Peconic Bay Medical Center) Board of Directors and a former member of the Riverhead school board.

Mr. Stark was a longtime member of St. John the Evangelist R.C. Church. He was an avid golfer and longtime member of the Southampton Golf Club, in addition he was a high school basketball referee for many years.

In recent years, Mr. Stark has been active in Heidi’s Helping Angels, a group that was formed to aid the family of Heidi Behr, a 23-year-old Riverhead ambulance volunteer who was killed in an ambulance crash in 2005, while answering a call. She left behind a young son with disabilities.

Mr. Stark served as president of the nonprofit organization, which each year awarded an annual scholarship in Heidi’s name to local high school students and recently got a stretch of road near the Peconic River named in her honor.

“Part of our mission statement is to memorialize Heidi’s memory for sacrifice she made to the community,” Mr. Stark said in a 2013 interview.

During Mr. Stark’s tenure on the Town Board, the board adopted the zoning that allowed Tanger Outlets to come to town, and he played key roles in bringing Atlantis Marine World (now Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center) to the town.

As supervisor and chairman of the Riverhead Community Development Agency, he led the initial efforts to market the former Grumman property as the Calverton Enterprise Park in 1996, prior to Riverhead Town taking formal ownership in 1998.

Current Supervisor Sean Walter, in a written statement, called Mr. Stark a “staunch fiscal conservative, who was a careful steward of town finances.”

“He ran the town like a business and we owe him a great deal of gratitude for his leadership,” said former supervisor Bob Kozakiwicz, who was town attorney under Mr. Stark.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who said Mr. Stark pushed her into politics, said of him in a written statement, “I was fortunate that he invested so much of his time in consulting with me on how to be a better councilperson. He shared his experiences with me and gave me advice on how to deal with every situation that I questioned him about.

“I know he loved this town and the residents. Jim was a friend, a leader, a mentor and someone I truly respected.”

Predeceased by his parents and brothers, William Bruce Stark and John Douglas Stark Sr., Mr. Stark is survived by his wife of 50 years, Patricia, and his four children: Catherine L. Stark of Riverhead, Mark Stark of Riverhead, James Stark and his wife Patricia of Dix Hills, and Joanna Beall and her husband Corey of  Honalulu, Hawaii. He is also survived by seven grandchildren Caelyn Stark, Kelsey Stark, Keaghon Stark, Amanda Stark, Paige Stark, Rebecca Beall and Cooper Beall and one great grandson, Keaghon Stark Jr.

The family will receive visitors Thursday, March 19, and Friday, March 20, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at McLaughlin Heppner Funeral Home in Riverhead. A funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, March 21, at St. Isidore R.C. Church in Riverhead. Burial will take place at St. John the Evangelist R.C. Cemetery in Riverhead.

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