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Starkes, long-time Vegas chaplain, dies

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (BP)–Tommy Starkes, a well-known Southern Baptist chaplain for the Southern Nevada Casino Chaplaincy, died of an apparent heart attack while walking near his Las Vegas home May 19. He was 67.

“He was the most respected minister in Las Vegas,” said Harry Watson, director of missions for the Southern Nevada Baptist Association, where Starkes served for the past 14 years.

He is survived by his wife, Donna, three children — Tamara, Monte and Jesse -– a brother and four grandchildren.

“Every day I know more about God’s grace,” Starkes was known to say. “It is by His mercy that we are all allowed to serve.”

For 19 years, Starkes ministered to thousands of Las Vegas hotel and casino workers through his Church on the Strip, now Tropicana Christian Fellowship

Starkes came to Las Vegas in December 1984 and for more than 20 years, served as chaplain at several hotels, including the Flamingo, Bally’s, the Tropicana, the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay.

An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Starkes became pastor of the Church on the Strip in 1985 as a way of reaching those “who would normally not go out of their way to attend church,” said Donna, his wife of 22 years.

He led many Bible studies for hotel employees and in recent years, conducted church services in places like the poker room at the Bellagio to minister to the increasingly large number of professional poker players.

“It was important for Tommy to go to the places where he felt Jesus would be,” Donna Starkes said.

Born Monte Thomas Starkes on Oct. 8, 1939 in Eastland, Texas, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Wayland College in Plainview, Texas, in 1961, and later earned a master’s degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. In 1966, he was awarded a doctorate from the University of Iowa and also did post-doctorate work at both the University of Wisconsin and Nigerian Baptist Seminary in Nigeria.

Prior to relocating to Las Vegas, he served as the first director of the Home Missions Board’s (now the North American Mission Board) Interfaith Witness department, and also served as a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for five years.

In addition to being a pastor and a hotel chaplain, Starkes served as chaplain for the UNLV football and baseball teams. One of the players was Steve Stallworth, former quarterback and now vice president and general manager of the Orleans Arena.

“All the players knew him as Bro. T,” said Stallworth, who played at UNLV from 1982-1986. “It was on his license plate. His heart was as big as the state he was from. He was more than a pastor, he was my friend. He married my wife and me.”

When the National Finals Rodeo relocated to Las Vegas in 1985, Starkes became chaplain to the rodeo participants. After the rodeo each night, he would hold worship services for the cowboys.

During his life Starkes served as pastor of churches in Kentucky, Iowa, Texas and Nevada, as well as a missionary to Panama and Nigeria.

The author of several Christian books, Starkes also served as professor for Silver State Seminary and Bethel University/Bethel Seminary.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to Safe Nest, (a program for battered and neglected women and children), 2915 W. Charleston, Suite 12, Las Vegas, Nev., 89102.

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