He noted that the Yamboree was started during the Great Depression, and that Can-Do feeling still permeates it today.
The original festival celebrated the sweet potato, commonly known as a yam, which was then one of the major crops of the area. A ban on the sale of Upshur County yams because of an infestation of potato weevils was lifted, new applications for yams had been developed in addition to their role as food, and spirits were high.
“We’re going to have a celebration,” was the cry.
“It shows the human spirit,” Starr said. “Even in the height of the Depression, we’re going to have a celebration.”
Starr cited a line from a popular early 70s song, “lean on me, when you’re not strong,” which he termed a “sermon in rhyme.”
He quoted Winston Churchill (his parents admired Churchill, and Winston is Starr’s middle name), “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
As an example, he pointed to the life of Robert LeTourneau, who “fell in love with East Texas.” LeTourneau started his industry with one tractor, and built an empire. Then he lost his son, and that changed his perspective. He realized he had been working hard, but working hard for the wrong things.
He decided to be a “giver,” and ended up giving 90 percent of his income to philantrophy. He bought a hospital facility in Longview that was about to be abandoned with the end of World War II, and built the great university which bears his name.
“That is a monument to the spirit of service” throughout East Texas, Starr said. “That’s the American way.”
He quoted a Latin phrase, “pro ecclessia, pro Texas”—For the Church, For Texas.”
“That’s the mission of Baylor,” he said. And, he said, that was the combined mission of the service clubs and organizations that came together to create the Yamboree every year.
This year, in addition to the nation’s economic woes, drought and wildfires have plagued the state, but “lean on me” endures in this festival.
Starr had been introduced by Steve Dean, himself a Baylor alumnus. Dean said that “Baylor is a university where it is cool to be a Christian.”
The oldest university in Texas, it has turned out some outstanding lawyers and outstanding preachers, as well as professionals in many other fields.
He related the story of how his two daughters, both former Yamboree Queens, were at Baylor and wanted to come home for the Yamboree, but they didn’t want to be penalized for missing classes.
Dean talked to the then-president of Baylor U. to try to find a solution. The Baylor chief executive declared the Yamboree to be an official Baylor extra-curricular activity, and the problem was solved.
In other luncheon activity, Brian Johnson, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Port Neches, gave the invocation.
Emcee Jeff Rash introduced this year’s Queen, Drew Henson-Hill, and 2011 Yamboree President Randy Hill.
Both gave brief remarks.
Hill related how the late Matt Camp, who died of cancer last year, was supposed to be this year’s Yamboree president. Hill said that he had a keepsake yam lapel pin, which he had planned to pass down in his family.
Instead, he pinned it on Cade Camp, Matt’s young son, and recognized Cade and Matt’s widow, Deirdre, who was seated with Rash at the head table.
Mary Jane Barton, sister of the late Amy Dean Logan, presented the Amy Dean Scholarship to the queen.
This year’s essay and poetry winners from county schools were recognized. (See separate story.)
In closing remarks, Rash told the audience to remember “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” He encouraged attendees to enjoy the present by enjoying corn dogs and turkey legs and all the joys of the Yamboree.