An inventive mind

Starr instrumental in start and development of Inventor’s Congress  In the 1950s, F. Robert “Bob” Starr noted that upwards of 200 young people found it necessary to leave Redwood County each year to find jobs. “At the same time, what I saw within a mile of my house were inventions that could create jobs,” Starr said. For example, one of his neighbors, Alfred Borth, invented the turning signal for automobiles. A few winters later Borth invented the electric scoreboard.  Starr himself invented a rotary lawn mower – just because he was “in the poor people class yet and did not own a lawn mower. “And besides, the winters here are long and cold,” he said. Lawn mower and long winters aside, Starr saw that many of his neighbors’ inventions were “stolen” by other parties with the connections to mass produce the items. And so Starr, now age 91, set about working to change the trend. Looking toward the Minnesota River Valley from his farm house near Delhi – a small village about 10 miles northwest of Redwood Falls – Starr explained the solution he sought. “I talked to my neighbor Herb Bollum,” Starr said. “We got together with Bill Paulson in Farm Bureau, the Junior Chamber of Commerce and all of the county organizations.” Representatives from those organizations, along with a married couple from each Redwood County township, met at the Delhi school where they decided that a county-wide inventor’s show was just the ticket to creating new local jobs. “Then Bob went to the Twin Cities,” Starr said, still smiling about the adventure after all these years. “I went to the TV stations,” he explained, then turned and asked “How much guts do you have to walk into a TV station and sell them a new idea?” “Guts” have never been in short supply in Starr’s world. He waited for hours at the WCCO television station before gaining an audience with Charles “Chick” McCuen. “Chick McCuen was the number one TV personality in the state of Minnesota,” Starr explained. McCuen was intrigued by the inventor’s show concept and began to feature the idea – frequently – on his broadcasts. So frequently, Starr said, that McCuen ultimately lost his job at WCCO. “I felt so bad about that,” Starr said, “but Chick said ‘Don’t feel bad. Because of you, I got the best job in Chicago’.” But it was because of McCuen, Starr, WCCO radio announcer Maynard Speece and a host of volunteers that the first Redwood County Inventor’s Congress was held in 1958. There were 200 inventors exhibiting their prototypes at the first Congress.  Those inventors received assistance from invention experts and much feed-back from the general public. Gov. Orville Freeman also caught wind of the exhibition and strongly suggested it be a state-wide event. The Minnesota Inventor’s Congress (MIC) has been held annually, during the second weekend of June, ever since. Starr, who held a position on the volunteer governing board until just the past couple of years, noted that his friend Maynard Speece spent time every summer and fall in our part of rural Minnesota. It was more than just the MIC that kept bringing Maynard Speece back to Redwood County, Starr recalled with a chuckle. It was pheasants. “Remember how many pheasants we used to have out here?” Starr asked. “Maynard enjoyed coming out here during pheasant season to hunt.” When the pheasants became in short supply, Starr supplemented Speece’s hunting experience by raising flocks of the birds in his barn. As much as they enjoyed pheasant hunting together, both Starr and Speece knew they were on to something big with the MIC. But after MIC’s first few years, Starr and the rest of the board of directors decided the exhibition would benefit from some kind of special feature. “We joined up with the Pork Producers and sold tickets,” Starr explained. “Five dollars would get you a pork meal and entrance to the MIC. People were lined up from one end of the fairgrounds to the other to eat.” Later, Starr began taking bus loads of MIC visitors on his “Dakota Conflict Tour,” a tour he started in the 1940s with students from the Delhi Public School. The tours, with guide Starr at the helm, focused on the geology and history of the Minnesota River Valley.  Starr led the Dakota Conflict Tours during the MIC and throughout the summers for over 40 years. Busy a time as the months surrounding an event such as the MIC can be, it has obviously never been all-encompassing for Starr. During his 55-year farming career, Starr also worked as an A.S.C.S.  area field man in West Central Minnesota and wrote and designed the first Feed Lot Pollution Control practice in the state. He also secured a $400,000 grant for a conservation practice used in the Minnesota River Valley. In 1982, when some of his cronies were contemplating retirement, Starr was elected to the Minnesota Wheat Council and served on the Board of U.S. Wheat Associates. He traveled for 40 days in Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe and Central America, all the while soaking up the culture (even though he could not speak a word of any of the languages he encountered) and promoting U.S.-grown wheat. “I’ve sure had the full life,” Starr said as he reminisced. “The MIC has been a big part of my life,” Starr said. It’s also been part of his personal success story. Starr and his late wife, Ethel, are parents of three adult children – Sharon Hollatz, Dale Starr and Faythe Amberg – all whom, with their respective spouses, have chosen to make Redwood County their home.

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