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Bitney Starke leaves 833 Education Foundation

Close friends say Patti Bitney Starke is energetic, strong, fierce and a person who never does anything halfway.

Starke, who is leaving the South Washington County Education Foundation after serving as executive director for 12 years, used those qualities to raise nearly $500,000 for classroom projects with relentless enthusiasm for fundraising.

Among the projects she organized were two annual "extravaganzas" featuring silent auctions and foods from local restaurants.

She was honored last week at a reception held at the District Service Center where friends, and foundation board members thanked her for her service to education.

Former District 833 Superintendent John Regan, who was a district administrator when the foundation was formed in 1996, said it was fortunate for the district to have "Patti at the helm of the foundation."

The late 1990s were lean years for the district, he said, when the school board had to make drastic cuts. The foundation helped fund projects for classroom teachers, he said.

"She really impacted the district," Reagan said.

Current Superintendent Mark Porter said Bitney Starke helped district teachers learn, through the foundation application process, how to write grants to other education organizations.

"Our teachers didn't know how to think that way," Porter said.

When the foundation was founded everyone had a lot of good ideas, said Al Wilke, foundation board member since it was founded.

"Things started to happen after she was named executive director," he said. "She thinks big."

In accepting a plaque commemorating her service, Bitney Starke, a Woodbury resident, said it was a privilege to be of service to the district.

"I'm blessed that my children are educated in District 833," said the mother of four.

Bitney Starke, who said she is a risk taker who likes change, is moving on to become a full-time advocate for military veterans, something she got interested in while attending meetings regarding Woodbury and Washington County joining the Yellow Ribbon Network.

Her interest in supporting veterans was not a new concern for Bitney Starke because her husband, Rick, a highly decorated Marine engaged in special operations, served in the Vietnam War.

In 1999, Rick had cancer, which Bitney Starke said was the result of exposure to Agent Orange.

After numerous surgeries, including near-death experiences, she became aware of how veterans struggle with the physical and psychological effects of their war experiences and dealing with the Veteran's Administration.

"As Rick's journey unfolded, many veterans came to me for help," she said. "They were not aware of the services that are available to them.

As she moves on to a new career, Bitney Starke said she looks back fondly to having made a positive impact on district literacy in her tenure with the foundation. She also thanks the many donors who stepped up to help that happen.

Rick is now fully recovered and Bitney Starke looks forward to her new job and continues to be grateful for her family's support.

"They are the wind beneath my wings," she said.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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