John and L'Nell Starkey

Baylor Legacy Award: Presented to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary service and philanthropy to Baylor or to causes that fit our mission as a Christian university

January 5, 2024
John and L'Nell Starkey

When John Starkey, BA ’53, earned a basketball scholarship to Baylor in 1949, his knowledge of the University extended mostly to the basics: solid academics, a community of faith and a place where he could both play basketball and pursue a medical career at a high level.

He came to know Baylor as a place to build a legacy.

John and his wife L’Nell, BA ’53, have done that, and their five children, all of whom followed their parents’ path and graduated from Baylor, are only part of the story. A love and appreciation for the Green and Gold came naturally to the Starkey children because it came naturally to their parents.

“Baylor has always held a special place in our hearts,” John says. “Our time as students was special. We met there, and made friends that we still have to this day. Baylor has influenced so many lives; it influenced our lives and our children’s lives. We received an education that prepared us for life and me for a career in the medical field.”

For more than 50 years, residents of Victoria, Texas, have known John for his long-standing radiology practice, where he served generations of patients in South Texas before retiring in 2011.

John and L’Nell have missed only two Homecomings since 1949, a testament to their deep connection with the University and the enduring friendships they’ve made with a dozen couples who also regularly return to campus. The Starkeys, who met early in their freshman year, were a couple when they attended their first Baylor Homecoming as students in 1949. Both left their mark on campus.

John was a center on Baylor’s basketball team and led the team in scoring his senior season. L’Nell began as a pre-nursing student before switching to biology and education. She was active with the Atheneans (now Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority) and showed her athletic abilities as quarterback for the Baylor Beauties women’s football team.

They married shortly after graduation and moved to Houston, where John received his MD from Baylor College of Medicine. L’Nell supported the couple during John’s studies by working in the office of Dr. Michael DeBakey, the legendary cardiovascular surgeon who later pioneered the development of the artificial heart.

“We knew I was going to work while John studied,” L’Nell says. “I started working for the medical school and saw to it that the professors there were writing what they needed to—for books and academic journals. We knew it was an historic department while we were there.”

While working with DeBakey had its share of excitement, the Starkeys were focused on starting John’s medical practice—and starting their family.

“Our time as students was special. We met there, and made friends that we still have to this day. Baylor has influenced so many lives; it influenced our lives and our children's lives.”

Starting with their daughter Marsella, BA ’76, JD ’79, who arrived at Baylor as a pre-law student, at least one Starkey child was on campus every year from 1972 to 1984. Loree Starkey-Clark, BA ’79, John, BA ’81, Melanie Starkey-Johnston, BA ’84, and Mignon Starkey-Jones, BA ’84, all followed Marsella at Baylor. Five of John and L’Nell’s 14 grandchildren also became Bears.

“We more or less expected our kids to follow us to Baylor,” John says with a laugh. “We really didn’t force them, but I did say, ‘Unless you can find a school that’s better, then that’s where we’re going to plan for you go.’ They all looked at Baylor and the programs they offered for what they were interested in studying and saw that it was the place for them.”

The Starkeys also have invested in the lives of other Baylor students in a variety of ways. In addition to regular support of pre-existing Baylor scholarships, the Baylor Bear Foundation and campus building projects, they formed The Dr. John H. and L’Nell Starkey Family Scholarship Fund and annually grow the fund to help students defray the costs of a Baylor education.

“Students have written us over the years to tell us how much they appreciate the scholarships,” L’Nell says. “Many say if not for the scholarship help, they couldn’t go. It’s great to be able to assist in some small way, to help families who wouldn’t otherwise be able. Baylor is a wonderful place, and we like to share a place we love so much.”

Perhaps the most symbolic aspect of the Starkey’s love for Baylor can be found in their plans for their estate. Baylor is a beneficiary, listed as their sixth “child.” Future students will benefit from that estate gift for generations to come.

“We told our children and grandchildren that this is something important we wanted to do,” John says. “We want them to be charitable also. A Baylor scholarship made a difference for me, and that’s something you want others to have, as well. There’s so much to be excited about at Baylor. It’s a place that influences so many lives for the better. When we see other people choosing to come here, it’s a great feeling for us to have.”