Husband, father, grandfather, uncle, veteran, pilot, farmer, islander, volunteer, lover of life. Born Dec. 17, 1925, on Pelee Island, Ont. Died Dec. 9, 2011, in Tillsonburg, Ont., of Alzheimer’s disease, aged 85.
Starr Hamel was born in the back of the Pelee Island, Ont., poolroom where his Irish grandparents worked hard to scratch out a living during the 1920s and 1930s. Before he was born, his father abandoned his mother and two-year-old brother, Creighton. Times were hard, and his mother was forced to leave the island to find work, leaving Starr and Creighton with their grandparents, Starr and “Mammy” McCormick.
Though their grandparents had little to offer the boys in material things, Starr and Creighton relished their childhood experiences on Pelee. They visited their mother from time to time, but their bond with their grandparents was so strong that the island became their permanent home.
In 1941, Starr joined the air force along with his brother. He was only 16. A love of flying became ingrained in his spirit. He yearned to be sent overseas, but his talents were used as a flying instructor.
Following the Second World War, he returned to Pelee. In need of work, he sailed on freighters on the Great Lakes until he joined the army in 1950, serving in the trenches during the Korean War until 1952.
Returning again to Pelee Island, Starr decided to put down roots. His brother had bought a farm and Starr decided to take up farming, too. To earn money to establish his venture, he took a job in a tobacco factory in Tillsonburg, Ont., where he met Mary Fardella at a church dance. They married in 1954 and lived in an old farmhouse on Pelee.
Mary and Starr were truly devoted to one another. They raised two girls, Jackie and Lynn, and two boys, Starr and David. They built a dream home overlooking the island’s north bay. They both supported their community. Starr served on council, was on call as a volunteer fireman and spent more than 50 years supporting the Catholic church on the island.
Starr’s dream of owning his own plane became a reality in 1970 when he purchased a Cessna 172. He always stepped up when needed in a medical emergency and made countless trips to the mainland with residents and vacationing cottagers. He was a trusted pilot and understood the island and its surrounding area in good and severe weather.
Starr enjoyed the little things in life – eating chocolate bars and ice cream, reading by a blazing fire. He loved meeting people and was always eager to share a good story. He marvelled at the fact that he was able to travel to various parts of the world in his retirement years. He rejoiced at the birth of each of his eight grandchildren and envied what they would see in their lifetime.
Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, he moved to a nursing home in 2009. It’s said that, “All men die; some never live.” Starr Hamel certainly lived.
By Jackie Cousins, Starr’s daughter.