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Samuel 'Jerry' Starr, teacher, musical theater figure; April 11, 1933 -- June 29, 2011

Samuel "Jerry" Starr of Amherst, a retired teacher credited as the originator of musical theater at Kenmore West High School, died Wednesday in ElderWood Health Care at Wedgewood. He was 78.

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Starr moved to the Buffalo area after serving with the Air Force in Japan during the Korean War. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Buffalo.

Known as "S.J.," Mr. Starr was a high school teacher in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District for 34 years. He taught English, drama and public speaking at Kenmore West.

He began directing the high school's annual musicals in 1963 and also directed plays. Among them was a production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" that featured CNN political anchor Wolf Blitzer, a Kenmore West alumni, in a supporting role.

In 1966, he and his wife, Elaine, founded the Ken-Ton Summer Musical Theater Workshop -- which has become the longest-running youth theater company in Erie County. For years, the entire Starr family was involved in the program.

All told, Mr. Starr directed more than 100 plays and musicals.

While at Kenmore West, he and Stephen Ash, a fellow teacher, founded Educators Totally Committed, an organization that raises money for the poor and homeless through activities such as an outdoor sleep-out during the winter.

"I was watching a TV special on the homeless four years ago. I'd been complaining about it being cold out, and I felt guilty," Mr. Starr said in a 1991 interview with The Buffalo News. "I spoke to some people the next day. We started Educators Totally Committed and the sleep-out."

In 1993, Mr. Starr was honored in Washington, D.C., by then-first lady Barbara Bush as one of 50 winners in the national "Search for Real Heroes," which was sponsored by a coffee company. He had been nominated by one of his daughters.

Mr. Starr retired from Kenmore West in 1994 and is among the inductees in the school's Corridor of Honor. He later was part of the adjunct faculty of Buffalo State College, supervising student teachers.

He had taught more than 30 years at the religious school of Temple Beth Zion, where he also served as principal for several years. In 1996, he received Temple Beth Zion's Maurice S. Tabor Man of the Year Award.

His wife, Elaine Miller Starr, died in 2003.

Survivors include a son, Kevin, and three daughters, Syndi Buscaglia, Jodi Cook and Robyn.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Friday in Temple Beth Zion, 805 Delaware Ave.

[HABUDA]

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