Publication:Lincoln Journal Star;

Date:Nov 23, 2008; Section:Hometown; Page Number:D1    

Inspiration

Wahoo native passionate about biking, music, pageants, education.

BY JOANIE CRADICK For the Lincoln Journal Star

‘You certainly know what’s important. It’s not things. It’s education. It’s what is in your head. Nobody can take that away.’

— Patricia Starr, speaking of losing her home to a fire earlier in her life

    WAHOO — A curtain of brown hair falls forward as Patricia Starr’s ringed fingers fly over the piano keys, five or so inches above the keyboard.

    Playing “Polonaise” from memory, her svelte form bends to the task.

    A Wahoo native, Nebraska Wesleyan University graduate, longtime music teacher, California resident and winner of many titles and crowns, including 1957 Miss Wahoo and 1996 Ms. Senior California, Patricia Starr recently played Frederic Chopin’s piece at the Ms. Senior America Pageant in Atlantic City, N. J.

    Wearing a red gown and representing Nebraska, she competed against 44 contestants, coming in fifth.

    But how she got to Atlantic City is the bigger story: she bicycled the 1,400 miles with friend Tony Aitken, a triathlete in his 40s, also known as the Cycling Chef.

    Her husband, Gabriel Gonzales Starr, who unabashedly professes his amazement at his wife’s pluck and stamina, drove the decorated van, hailing her as the Bicycle Queen, that acccompanied the cyclists.

    While 71-year-old Starr’s ability to pedal nearly 1,500 miles showcases her fitness and singles her out as an inspiration to others, her main goal in pedaling across the country was to raise money for music scholarships at Wahoo High School, from which she graduated in 1954.

    “The high school has never had music scholarships. This is the first,” Starr said, noting that she received scholarships from service groups like the Jaycees, VFW and Women’s Club that helped her get through college.

    The Starrs donated $1,000 to begin the scholarships drive at Wahoo High School; in May, the school will award one $500 scholarship for vocal and one $500 scholarship for instrumental music.

    In addition, contributions have come in from Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, New Jersey and California to perpetuate the scholarships. One of the largest contributions of $1,000 came from a fellow member of the Prime Time Band in Santa Barbara, Calif., Silvio & Mary Diloreto; Starr is a trombonist for the large band of musicians 50 years and older which was also a big supporter.

    For Starr, the importance of education is immeasurable.

    When she was 40, Starr’s home was one of 270 homes lost in a California fire.

    “You certainly know what’s important,” she says of that loss. “It’s not things. It’s education. It’s what is in your head. Nobody can take that away,” Starr said.

    “She lost everything in a house fire but she had her skills, her passion, her determination to come back and to return and give back to the kids again,” her husband said.

    For the trek to Atlantic City, the lithesome trombonist and concert pianist rode a red Felt bicycle her husband had bought her for her first race, a charity fundraiser for multiple sclerosis in Solvang, Calif.

    Gabriel says had he known then that his wife had so much grit under her helmet, he would have bought her a lighter, more expensive bike.

    “I didn’t believe her,” he says sheepishly, explaining he wasn’t about to spend $5,000 on a bike when he didn’t believe she would do it.

    But then the country girl who landed her first organist’s job at 13, who bicycled in Swedeburg and who worked in a cafe is steeped in what she alludes to as “Nebraska determination.”

    Starr entered that charity race, biking more than 50 miles. “I thought I was going to die,” she said.

    But that achievement now pales in comparison. “Who would have dreamt a 50-mile day would be just a fluff day?” says the woman who, at 67, pedaled 3,622 miles from Astoria, Ore., to Portsmouth, N.H., to establish a $1,000 music scholarship at Santa Barbara City College. The scholarship is awarded annually.

    Starr worked out for about three weeks before the event, averaging about two hours a day. Her workouts took her up Gibraltar Hill in California where Lance Armstrong trains, noted Gabriel.

    The trip to Atlantic City required Starr to pedal for 25 days in a row, starting between 8 and 9 a.m. daily. She racked up 85 miles a day a couple of times in the flatlands but the terrain in Mississippi and Kentucky reduced her mileage to 40 miles a day in some places.

    When she reached Atlantic City, Starr says the first question she was asked was if she would do it again. “Yes,” she responded.

    A proponent of a healthy lifestyle, Starr avoids sweets and caffeine. En route to Atlantic City, she snacked on nuts, raisins, bananas, yogurt, soy milk and bagels.

    Her healthy choices also extend to her free time. She’s not one to sit around. No couch potato, she doesn’t even have a couch in either her Wahoo or California home, though she does have a settee in her Wahoo home.

    When she is not performing — she played the piano at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., Laughlin, Nev., and Branson, Mo. — or playing in the Prime Time Band, she’s giving private music lessons, setting tile, gardening or perhaps shopping for and hauling remodeling items to the properties she and her husband own and manage.

    Starr met her husband when her Cadillac engine blew up and he fixed it. Gabriel had an automotive shop at the time and was a specialist trained in General Motors diesel repair. They struck up a friendship and eventually, Gabriel, who had taken piano lessons when he was younger, started taking piano lessons from her. The couple has three children between them and one grandchild.

    What’s next for the pair which has condensed cycling and pageantry events into a single phrase, “Journey of a Lifetime?” Possibly, a television appearance. While en route from Peru, Neb., Gabriel received a call from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” That call may or may not pan out but Gabriel notes Starr is in the top 100 contenders.

    A book is also in the works. Starr has written, “Angel on My Handlebars,” and has identified a publisher.

 

Patricia Starr, 71, stands behind the Felt bike that carried her 1,400 miles from Wahoo to Atlantic City, N.J        . JOANIE CRADICK/For the Lincoln Journal Star

 

Patricia Starr gets a police escort as she bicycles into Atlantic City, N.J., for the Ms. Senior America Pageant. Courtesy photo

 

Courtesy photo Patricia Starr’s main goal in pedaling across the country to the pageant was to raise money for music scholarships at Wahoo High School, from which she graduated in 1954.

Courtesy photo Patricia Starr (second from left), wearing a red gown and representing Nebraska, competed against 44 contestants in the Ms. Senior America pageant, coming in fifth.
 

Patricia Starr’s fingers fly over the keys of the piano in her Wahoo home. Starr, a professional musician and music teacher, bicycled 1,400 miles from Wahoo to Atlantic City, N.J., to raise money for music scholarships for Wahoo High School, her alma mater.      JOANIE CRADICK/For the Lincoln Journal Star