COLUMBIA — In his last hours, Larry Joe Starke asked his sister, Betty Wetmore, to pull up a chair and grab his treasured quilt, given to him to honor his service in the Army.
Alongside her brother's bed, Wetmore sang hymns and choruses to him, holding his hand and gazing into his bluest-of-blue eyes.
"Pretty," Mr. Starke said with a smile. "I love you."
"He always had a smile for everyone," his sister said. "He was very grateful to people for whatever they did for him, even toward the end when he was in pain."
Mr. Starke died of cancer Wednesday, June 20, 2012. He was 65.
He never let his cancer stop him from appreciating everyone and everything in life, Wetmore said. "The nurses just loved him; he used to wink at them all the time. He had a very sweet spirit."
Mr. Starke was born April 20, 1947, in Columbia to Joe and Emma (Byers) Starke.
As a young man, Mr. Starke was very hardworking and well-liked.
"All the girls loved him," Wetmore said.
He graduated from Hickman High School in 1966 before entering the Army and serving in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service.
Mr. Starke wrote letters to his younger sister from Vietnam, all of which Wetmore kept and cherished.
"He talked about death, about God," Wetmore said. "He was a very strong man."
After Vietnam, Mr. Starke returned to Columbia and worked as a firefighter for 12 years, retiring in 2009. He also worked part time sweeping and cleaning up streets for the city.
“He always made everything as clean as a whistle,” Wetmore said. "He liked things to be organized. He was a clean freak."
Throughout his life, Mr. Starke had a strong faith in God and prayed often to help get through his difficulties, his sister said.
"I think it was his faith in God that held him together," she said.
Mr. Starke is survived by his sister, Betty Wetmore, and her husband, Rich, of Columbia; his brother, Bob Starke, of Thompson; his nephews, Scott Wetmore, Greg Wetmore and Dalton Starke; his niece, Angie Starke; and several cousins.
His parents died earlier.
Visitation will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bach-Yager Funeral Chapel, 1610 N. Garth Ave. Services will follow at 2 p.m. at the same location. Burial will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery with military honors.
Memorial contributions are suggested to Mr. Starke's family via Betty Wetmore, care of Bach-Yager Funeral Chapel, 1610 N. Garth Ave., Columbia, MO 65202.
Online condolences and tributes can be posted at www.bachyager.com.
Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.