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Faith, community drive newly elected Stark

"There are so many questions we have to grapple with," Duane Stark says. "As a state representative, yes, we write laws, but we also need to understand that we're there to represent the people."

An easy winner in the November election, the Grants Pass Republican will step in next year to represent District 4, which includes parts of eastern Josephine County and western Jackson County.

Stark was born 36 years ago in Grants Pass and had three older brothers. "It toughens you up," he said of his boyhood. "We grew up in an era where boys could be boys, and there was a lot of roughhousing in the house. Instead of my parents taking us to different wrestling practices, they'd just take us all to the same practice," where the other boys were 5 years older and that much bigger than Stark.

He graduated from Hidden Valley High School in 1996 and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Oregon and a master's degree from Multnomah University.

As a teenager himself, he did missionary work with youth gang members in Fresno, Calif. In 1998, he did the same in Detroit. "You find ways to lure them in," he says. "I would do open gym, and the kids loved playing basketball." No gang colors or weapons were allowed in the gym.

"You discover that kids are kids, no matter how tough they try to act. They need to be loved and guided," Stark says.

He took a group of Fresno boys on their first campout, and they ran into some coyote pups. "These guys were so afraid," he says. "They all decided to take down their tents and pulled out the stakes, and slept with them across their chests, as their weapons against the pups."

The death of his father in 1992 left 14-year-old Stark enraged at God for a long time. "Then one day I decided, all right, I've spent all this time being angry at God," he says. "Am I going to be done with him altogether? I chose to be serious about him, and I gave my life to Christ."

On a visit to Grants Pass, Stark says he wondered why anybody wanted to live there. A decade, one wife and two children later, he wondered who wouldn't want to live there, and the Starks moved to town in 2008. "I love the small community. I wanted to be around family again."

He became a supervisor for the Southern Oregon Adolescent Study and Treatment Center, now Kairos, and resumed the work he had started years before at River Valley Church. "I've always thought many churches fall short in demonstrating to the community that they actually care about them." River Valley had ministries everywhere — nursing homes, coffeehouses, lube-and-oil shops, he says.

Stark decided he would apply only to River Valley for a pastorship, and became the church's pastor of local and global outreach.

His decision to run for state representative — his first political office — followed a mission to the Congo that convinced him he had to do everything possible for his community.

He also ran at the urging of Wally Hicks, a former state representative and the winner in a May race for Josephine County legal counsel. Stark would be running to replace Rep. Dennis Richardson, who was leaving office to run for governor — unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

Stark commanded 69 percent of the vote in November, defeating Democrat Darlene Taylor.

Stark and his wife, Dusti, have five children, including two foster boys.

Contact reporter Howard Huntington at 541-474-3726 or hhuntington@thedailycourier.com.

Duane Stark will now double as a pastor with River Valley Church and the new state representative for District 4, which includes parts of Josephine and Jackson counties. Howard Huntington / Grants Pass Daily Courier