Student-athlete's family pays it forward

The black-and-white photo is tucked away in the Department of Athletics archives. It was taken in 1969 and shows a young Tim Stark, then a senior, rounding a compacted cinder track with the biggest smile that oval likely ever produced.

Stark had reason to beam. He was the reigning Big Sky Conference champion in the 440-yard hurdles and had traveled to Berkeley, Calif., for the NCAA championships the previous spring.  In a few months he would marry his college sweetheart, Nancy Fleet.

One of 10 children raised by Max and Charlotte Stark in Polson, Mont., Tim was on the track that day, with so much already accomplished and still a lifetime to come, because track coach Harley Lewis had awarded him a scholarship.

Tim Stark

Stark needed that financial aid to attend The University of Montana, and he never forgot the impact his education and athletic experiences had on the rest of his life. Over the years that appreciation became a shared one with Nancy.

Stark, an avid outdoorsman who spent his career as a pilot, first in the Air Force, then with United Airlines, died in May 2005 at the age of 57 under tragic circumstances. He and his nephew were caught in a spring blizzard on Mt. Rainier and never made it off, succumbing to hypothermia.

To honor her husband’s memory and to give track and field athletes the same opportunity Tim had been given four decades earlier, Nancy helped establish the Tim Stark Memorial Track and Field Scholarship.

First given in 2007, it is one of 39 named scholarships awarded each year to deserving Griz student-athletes. This year’s recipient is Kesslee Payne, a distance runner from Gig Harbor, Wash.

“Tim put himself through school with the help of his scholarship,” Nancy says. “I wanted to do this, because I know how much Tim’s scholarship meant to him.

“It was a positive thing to do, and I know Tim would be proud of it.”

In the photo that is now slightly yellowed, Tim Stark is running in his team-issued warm-up top. A UM logo is positioned directly over his heart.

The University of Montana never moved from that spot. Nancy Stark made sure the connection will last.