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Ken and Kathy Starks, along with their herd of cattle, live in Stillwater near OSU and their family. (Photo by Bree Kisling)

Cattle and Corvettes

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Media Contact: Kristin Knight | Communications and Marketing Manager | 405-744-1130 |

The itch to go fast has been in Ken Starks’ mind for more years than he can remember.

Whether his goal was to give his all at work, to own a muscle car, or to obtain multiple degrees from Oklahoma State University, Starks’ life has always been operating at a faster pace, exactly as he prefers it, he said.

However, since retiring earlier this year from his leadership role at BancFirst, Starks said he has been happy to spend more time with his children and grandchildren.

He has continued to stay involved with the Stillwater community and his alma mater, he said.

“I wouldn’t have retired if I was just going to go home and sit in a chair,” Starks said.

Though his favorite place to be is outside with his Hereford cattle, Starks also has a love of quick-moving automobiles, he said.

“I like to go fast,” Starks said. “I have a collection of muscle cars, which are from the 1960s and ’70s and have high horsepower.”

This love of muscle cars began in high school while he was working at a local gas station with a group of other young men, Starks said.

As the youngest on the job, Starks was directed to wash cars in addition to his typical role of pumping gas for the station’s customers.

“I can remember one customer had a 1967 Corvette, and I got to wash it every Friday,” Starks said. “That was my exposure to that kind of car.

“Once I could afford them, I started buying them,” he added.

Today, Starks has a collection of 10 cars, including Camaros, Corvettes and a 1979 Trans Am. In the summertime, Starks spends several weekends racing cars in northeast Oklahoma with others from around the region.

“I take one of my Camaros to the racetrack in Hallett,” Starks said. “It’s considered gentlemen’s racing because we don’t crash and we don’t trade paint. But, there’s still no speed limit.”

Even though he may not race his treasured cars through the streets of Stillwater, he still has a strong love for his community and a desire to improve it as he can, he said.

Whether helping develop jobs and businesses with BancFirst, donating time, talents and resources to OSU, or simply sharing the passion he has for his community with others, Starks has consistently sped toward any opportunity to benefit his town, he said.

Barring three scattered years since 1966, Starks has lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma, surrounded by America’s Brightest Orange.

Moving to Stillwater at a young age from a smaller Oklahoma town, he has watched as people and businesses came and went, as Perkins Road transitioned from two gravel lanes into a major street, and as campus grew in magnitude and prominence, he said.

Once Starks and his high school sweetheart, Kathy Smith, had graduated high school, they both decided to pursue degrees at OSU.

“I didn’t consider anything else for undergraduate,” Starks said. “Our family bled orange.”

After getting married in 1975, Starks completed his agricultural economics degree in 1976. He then spent two additional years with the department to obtain his master’s degree.

Right after graduating, Starks began a job with OSU Extension in southeast Oklahoma. However, after a year of serving in that position, he knew the right decision was to move back home and pursue his dream career in banking, he said.

“It was about getting back to Stillwater,” Starks said. “I was homesick. I’ll admit it.”

After years of hard work, Starks took on new leadership roles at the company and was given platforms to share his passions with others, he said.

He served as the president of Stillwater’s BancFirst from 1998 to 2006 before being promoted to regional executive vice president in 2007, then executive vice president and director of community banking in 2018.

Despite his increasing workload at the bank, Starks remained involved with OSU and the Ferguson College of Agriculture. Besides supporting OSU athletics and attending plenty of campus events, Starks taught an undergraduate agricultural economics class on a temporary basis. Mike Woods, a former classmate from graduate school who had risen to become head of the OSU Department of Agricultural Economics, hired Starks.

“We lost a faculty member and didn’t have anyone to teach the agricultural finance course,” said Woods, who retired in 2019. “Starks told me he would do it, but he wanted to have it as early as possible. He wanted to come in, teach the course, and then go back to his bank job without being behind.”

Starks’ impact has stretched beyond classroom walls in many ways to the agricultural college and OSU as a whole, said Heidi Williams, OSU Foundation associate vice president of constituent development.

“Ken has continued to stay really involved and has wanted to help make connections with others, as well,” Williams said. “He doesn’t toot his own horn. He quietly and humbly stays involved and gives back time and talents in addition to resources.”

Of the many accomplishments and initiatives Starks championed while at BancFirst, one of his specific plans was to increase BancFirst’s support to his alma mater, he said.

“I always wanted to do as much as we possibly could,” Starks said. “And if I’m going to ask my company to contribute, I need to contribute first as an individual. You have to walk the walk.”

With that motivation in mind, the Starkses created the Ken and Kathy Starks Endowed Scholarship within the agricultural economics department and donated funds to the New Frontiers capital campaign in addition to their other contributions.

After decades of calling Stillwater his home and OSU his alma mater, Starks is still enthusiastic as ever to support the place that has always supported him and his family, he said.

“My dad always told me that I needed to leave Stillwater better than I found it, so I have always tried to do that,” Starks said.

Though his life has changed in more ways than he can count since he first moved to the town, his love for community, cattle, cars and the Cowboys has not slowed.

Story By: Bree Kisling | Cowboy Journal

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