Wahoo native passionate about biking, music,
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
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
“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
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
“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
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