Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

Stark grads swap tales in trip back home

Last week, a gaggle of grads from the old Stark High School gathered in Orange to visit and swap tales. And yes, there was some horn tooting--on a vintage bugle from the legendary Bengal Guards Girls Drum and Bugle Corps.

Bruce Beneke, Joel (Joey) Robins, David Bruce, and Chuck Dean from the Classes of 1965 and '66 were joined by Robins' kid sister, Becky Robins Smith, who still lives in Orange. One of their stops was at Heritage House Museum.

While there, Bruce Beneke brought a giant mounted photograph of the Lutch Stark Boys Band from the mid-1930s. Joe Beneke, Bruce's father, grew up in Orange and is pictured with the band. Joe Beneke served in World War II and later came back to Orange as the Stark High band director.

The timber heir H.J. Lutcher Stark paid for uniforms, instruments, and music lessons for the boys band and its equivalent, the Bengal Guards Girls Drum and Bugle Corps. There is a reason the Orange Independent School District board voted in the late 1940s to name Orange High School in his honor.

The group also checked out the beginnings of the Dr. Howard Williams Archives at Heritage House Museum. The papers and collections of the late physician and historian will be available in the future for people to use for research. The Heritage House Museum complex is still undergoing repairs after hurricane damages in different storms during the past five years.

Joel Robins was particularly interested in the archives. He now lives in Friendswood and has been spending his retirement researching high school football in Orange. He has tracked it down to 1909 at the three-story Orange High School that was on Division Avenue between College and Tenth Streets.

The Heritage House collection includes a photograph of the team. Heritage House has worked with the Portal to Texas History to have hundreds of those photographs online.

Robins knows his local football. For three years, he was the starting quarterback for the Stark Tigers. And of course, band members Bruce Beneke and David Bruce were at the games.

The two band members talked about the time band director Joe Beneke took two band members off the bus in the middle of a Saturday night and left them at the downtown Houston Greyhound bus station. "It was full of derelicts and drunks," David Bruce said.

The band had been coming back from a state playoff game in Bay City nearly 200 miles away. It was the infamous loss to Pharr-San Alamo because David Foster, the only high school All-American quarterback from Orange, had his collarbone broken early in the game.

It was a long day for the band and in those days, no one would have dreamed of paying for a hotel room for band kids. They traveled to the game early in the morning, performed and cheered, and were dragging home late.

That's when the stop came at the downtown Houston bus station. The two boys had been picking a the young assistant band director and would not follow Joe Beneke's orders to stop. So the band director stopped the band bus in Houston. The story is that he grabbed the two boys by their ears, picked them off the ground by their ears, and dragged them into the bus station. Beneke got back on the band bus without the boys and told the driver to "go."

"It made a big impression on the band kids," David Bruce said.

Later, the guys learned the rest of the story. Joe Beneke was friends with the fathers of the boys, who remain unnamed here. He bought the boys bus tickets to Orange and put them on the next out-going bus. He then telephoned their fathers and told them what happened and what time to pick the sons up at the downtown Orange bus station.

Chuck Dean reminisced about the Key Club meetings at the high school on Monday nights. Their parents always let them go to the meetings for the youth civic club. However, the Stark Key Club would adjourn to the B&B Bar across the river in Vinton. The picture of the bar even made it into a school yearbook, The Orange Peel.

Bruce Beneke told more stories about his father, who could play two clarinets at the same time. And Joe Beneke was related to the famous big band singer-musician Tex Beneke. Joe and Tex were first cousins. Bruce said Tex never had children and he always called him "Uncle Tex."

Joe Beneke had graduated from Orange and was at Sam Houston college when the United States joined World War II. He joined the Navy and became a pilot.

Bruce Beneke said his dad drove a full-size military bomber under the Rainbow Bridge one time. Luckily, no one marked down the tail number because it would have led to his dismissal.

The story is that Joe Beneke was at naval training school in Corpus Christi and as part of training, each pilot had to fly a number of cross-country training miles. Joe Beneke decided to fly down to Orange, which had an airfield. He picked up his childhood friend Jane Barber (later Jane Childers) and flew her around and under the bridge.

After being band director at Stark, Beneke became an assistant principal at the school. He then went on to continue a career in education, earning a doctorate degree and becoming superintendent of the Spring Independent School District. He died in 2003 at the age of 79. An elementary school in Spring is named in his honor.


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