‘Returning the Favor’ to Carol Stark

By on November 29, 2017

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After making dreams come true for so many kids, Carol Stark got a dream of her own granted last night.

Stark has been donating her time and talents to help children in need for most of her life, working with non-profit organizations like “For Our Kids,” the Ephrata Lions Club, and helping kids in local schools.

The Akron woman has held more spaghetti dinners, catered more events, decorated more floats, sold more flowers, and worked on more fundraisers than most other folks do in a lifetime.

But she was concerned that, at 73, she wouldn’t have the energy to carry on these activities forever.

Tuesday night on the football field at Cocalico High School, in front of hundreds of grateful people, Stark was surprised with a huge televised “thank you” party in honor of her unselfish work through the years. The event included other big surprises for Stark, but they won’t be revealed to the public until the episode airs in February.

“This is overwhelming,” Stark said. “At 73, I don’t know how long I can continue (doing charity work)…I always had a dream that maybe the summer school would continue, so this makes me very happy.”

Over the years, Stark has raised a significant amount of money to pay for kids to be able to go to summer school to help them get ahead in life.

Stark will be the featured home town celebrity in an upcoming episode of Mike Rowe’s “Returning The Favor,” a national TV and Facebook show that focuses on everyday people doing extraordinary things.

Married to John Stark, the couple have eight children and 24 grandchildren. The entire family had gathered to add to the surprise, a few coming from other states.

Tuesday night’s celebration was a surprise of massive proportions, with a nationally known celebrity, a TV crew, cheerleaders, pep squad and pep band, and hundreds of well-wishers, all converging on the Cocalico athletic field.

Folks who turned out for the chilly evening celebration were given hot chocolate to warm up as they waited for Carol to appear.

The TV camera crew gave directions to the crowd of well-wishers, who became “extras” in Stark’s featured episode.

Directors advised the crowd where to stand or which way to move for maximum exposure as a long boom with attached camera scanned the crowd.

TV celebrity Rowe spoke to the crowd before going to get Carol at her home.

“We’re here to honor Carol Stark,” Rowe said, to a deafening round of applause. “We’re also shooting a little TV show to honor one woman who has given of her time and talent for as long as anyone can remember.”

Rowe was so impressed, he said, when Carol baked a batch of Pennsylvania Dutch chocolate whoopie pies for him, after he mentioned how much he liked them.

“She doesn’t even know me, and yet she did that for me,” Rowe said.

“Returning The Favor” is the number one program on Facebook, Rowe said.

At the highlight of the evening, when Rowe surprised Stark with a special honor, confetti guns boomed out their paper ammunition, covering the track around the field — and many of the guests — with pastel-covered confetti that fell thick as snow as the crowd cheered their approval.

“We look for people like you (for the show), people who do what most folks won’t or don’t want to do,” Rowe said to Stark. “So we invited the community.”

Folks were happy to share their reminisces of Stark’s work and character.

“I’m here to honor Carol for her kind heart; she is a good-hearted, kind person,” said Sandi Davidson of Denver.

“Let me tell you about Carol…one Thanksgiving, a girl living in a motel with her kids called Carol and said ‘I understand you have some turkeys, could we have one?’ and Carol asked her how she was going to cook it in a motel. “The girl said she’d cut it up and put pieces in a toaster oven,” Davidson said. “So Carol said, ‘look, I’ll roast it for you ‘ and then she also brought them pie, gravy, a whole dinner….that’s Carol; that’s your person in a nutshell.”

The biggest tributes came from some of the people Carol has helped.

“Mrs. Stark, I love you,” said Tyler (last name not available). “Everything here is all the stuff you deserve. You’ve touched the lives of so many people.”

Robin, a young woman, said she met Stark back in 1988, at a critical time in her life.

“She took me under her wing,” Robin said. “She took me to work, she showed me how to save money, she babysat my kids. There are not enough words in the world to describe this woman.”

Linda Kromer of Ephrata said she’s known Carol for many years.

“She does great work with kids,” Kromer said. “She helps kids get their GED, she helps them with summer school, and she helps homeless kids, and she has had so many spaghetti dinners for fund raisers.”

Tim and Carolyn Wahl of Denver are fans of Rowe’s “Returning the Favor” show because it’s something positive to watch, they said.

“His show is about giving back and it’s well-put together,” Tim Wahl said. “So many reality shows are (lowlife), but this shows the better part of humanity.”

Having a local person on the show is icing on the cake.

“We’ve enjoyed reading about what she’s done and she well deserves the recognition,” Carolyn Wahl said of Stark. “It’s good to see something like (Rowe’s program) being produced, too, because it’s quality TV for a change.”

Jill ShoberHilt of Ephrata said their children grew up together.

ShoberHilt said Stark has always been working, always raising money for kids, and catering was one of the many ways in which she supported a number of non-profit agencies.

“She catered a dinner for my grandparents one time; she catered dinners for years,” ShoberHilt said. “She used all that money to help others. Carol is a unique person and she deserves this honor.”

Ginny Dissinger of New Holland started the non-profit New Holland Farmers Market, and Carol was a vendor there, selling flowers to raise money for her causes.

“The money wasn’t for her; she raised money for organizations that helped children,” Dissinger said.

One of Sara Givler’s daughters married one of Carol’s sons, so they are family, Givler said.

“I’ve always known Carol, before our children married, and she has such generosity of spirit,” Givler said. “She works like crazy for those kids. She works nonstop and it’s all for the kids — spaghetti dinners, parade floats, anything — she is so busy and I say ‘shouldn’t you slow down?’ but she never sees that.”

Upon the unveiling of the special surprise the show planned for Stark, Givler was ecstatic.

“It is a marvelous tribute!” Givler said. “I can’t wait to see her reaction.”

The episode of “Returning the Favor” filmed on Tuesday night will be aired online in February at facebook.com/ReturningTheFavor. The Ephrata Review will print more specific details when they become available.

Marylouise Sholly is a freelance feature writer and contributor to The Ephrata Review.

One Comment

  1. Rhonda Moyer

    November 29, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    My one son benefited from her generosity one year for summer school. Thank you, Mrs. Stark, for everything you do and have done for the children!

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