Mavis was determined to leave. Her husband was just as determined to stay. And that's how Mavis Starke's first marriage ended.
It was 1951, and Mavis wanted to move back to Florida, where she was born, where her family still lived. Her husband, William Kinsler, had a good-paying job with a bright future as a revenue collecting agent who picked up the money bags of the New York City subway system.
"I had no intention to come back to Florida," Kinsler said.
Two years into their marriage, and pregnant with her second child, Mavis Starke moved back to Florida.
"Once she sets her mind to something, forget it," Kinsler said.
She was that way as a young woman who caught the eye and captured the heart of William Kinsler. She was that way as the mother of two boys who joined the lawsuit in 1962 to desegregate Orange County schools. She was that way as the middle-aged woman who opened the Crossroads Mission homeless shelter in Parramore in the 1990s.
And she is still that way — strong-willed, outspoken, hardheaded — as an elderly woman with Alzheimer's.
"It's still in her," Kinsler said. "She just doesn't have the ability to push it through."
Fifty years after they divorced, Mavis Starke and William Kinsler are back together, living in the house on Waller Place where Syryal and Winston Kinsler grew up. Two years ago, Syryal Kinsler convinced his father to move in with them to help care for his mother.
The woman he came back to was nothing like the woman he first met at her sister's house in Jacksonville. The young Mavis Starke was an attractive young woman, slim, with a model's curves, and an ambition to make something of herself by helping the lives of others.
The woman Mavis is today, William Kinsler said, is a replica of her own mother, who also had dementia late in life.
At 81, Mavis Starke wanders through the world in her mind, where the people she knows best are fast becoming strangers. "Mister, who are you?" she asks her ex-husband.
But for most of her life, Mavis Starke was actively engaged in trying to change the world more to her liking.
In 1962, the year Starke joined the lawsuit to desegregate Orange County schools, she was a maid and cook. She was married to her second husband, Edward Starke, who worked for a moving company.
The lawsuit was a natural extension of her civil-rights activities, which included picketing the Publix grocery store on Orange Blossom Trail for refusing to hire black cashiers. She stayed on the picket line until the store closed.
A year after the lawsuit, Mavis Starke was among the throngs of thousands at the first civil-rights march in Washington to hear Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.
Starke's own education ended after 10thgrade, until she went back to get her GED in middle age. Her goal for her two sons was to get the best education possible and graduate from college. Of the 10 children listed on the lawsuit, Winston and Syryal Kinsler are the only two to attend white schools. Both would graduate from college.
"She told us we were going to college. We didn't have the financial means to go, but we were going," said Syryal Kinsler, 57, who works for Orange County schools.
She approached most of her causes the same way: Don't try to figure out how to make it happen. Just do it. Mavis Starke's tactic for creating change was to become a force of nature.
"For as long as I've known Mrs. Starke, whatever she felt and believed, she articulated with great velocity and great sincerity," said former State Rep. Alzo Reddick, who felt the wrath of Mavis when she opposed the extension of John Young Parkway through the black community. "She was a strong person in her positions and announced them forcefully."
Mavis was a small woman with big ideals and a loud voice that didn't spare the feelings of her opponents.
"You couldn't find a bigger fighter in a smaller person," said Barbara Young, a community activist. "She would confront anybody — anybody. If she is not for you, you better stay way away. She will announce it to the world."
In her long-running battle with Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood over her Crossroads Mission, Mavis Starke showed up at a City Council meeting wearing a "Recall Glenda Hood" hat, a "Recall Glenda Hood" dress, a whole outfit that said, "Recall Glenda Hood."
In the truest sense of the word, Mavis Starke was a community activist. Her life was a one-woman crusade for the lives of the oppressed, the discriminated, the forgotten and the forsaken. When the city finally closed down her 82-bed homeless shelter in 2000, her response was as blunt as an epitaph: "I've got a bad attitude. I don't kiss butt."
Jeff Kunerth can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5392.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun