Paraquad story from St. Louis
New executive director
takes over management
duties at Paraquad
By Jennifer LaFleur
Of The Post-Dispatch
Max Starkloff conceived of Paraquad -- an organization
advocating independent living for people with disabilities -- in
1970 from his room in a nursing home, with only a post office
box and a phone he could barely afford.
This week, Starkloff relinquished the management reins of that
organization, which he said has grown so large "my days
became a series of 10-minute meetings." He plans to return to
working at the forefront of the disability movement.
Paraquad now employs more than 75 people, has an annual
operating budget of about $4.5 million and directly serves more
than 3,500 people with disabilities in the St. Louis area.
Starkloff, 64, will remain president of Paraquad and set up a
consortium with local universities to study disability issues and
bring increased public attention to them.
Although he is excited about his new endeavors, leaving the
executive director post was not an easy decision. Starkloff
wanted to make sure a new manager would share his
philosophy to empower people with disabilities.
This week, Bob Funk takes over as chief executive and
executive director. Funk, a lawyer, served as chief of staff for
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the
administration of former President George Bush.
Funk is a great choice, Starkloff said. "When we talk, we're
along the same lines of thinking."
Funk, 57, has spent the past 15 years in Washington, where he
worked in the public and private sectors. In his most recent job,
Funk was president and chief executive of EKA Health and
Mobility Systems Inc., a medical services company.
A pioneer in independent living
In 1959, during the summer after his freshman year at St. Louis
University, an automobile accident left Starkloff a quadriplegic.
Starkloff lived with his mother for four years after the accident.
Eventually, problems in getting attendant services at home
forced him to move to St. Joseph Hill Infirmary near Eureka,
where he lived from 1963 to 1975.
As the years at the infirmary wore on, Starkloff's frustration
grew. He had learned to paint and studied art history, classical
music and philosophy. He wanted to share these things with
"I wanted to get out of the nursing home," he said. "As long as
I remained there, I would continue to face a condescending
Unable to find help, Starkloff decided to help himself.
"I learned about issues such as lack of accessible parking and
lack of transportation," he said. "There was no way to get
around. No curb cuts, you couldn't get on a bus, you couldn't go
Starkloff and others began a push to correct these problems.
He recalls a St. Louis County Council meeting where disabled
people and others overfilled the room to persuade Bi-State
Development Agency to buy accessible buses. In 1977, St. Louis
became one of the first cities in the country to put buses with
wheelchair lifts into service.
For five years, Starkloff ran the organization that later became
Paraquad from his nursing home room.
"The phone kept getting cut off because I couldn't pay the bill,"
Support from Morton May
At first, Starkloff received only a smattering of small donations
for his organization. The first significant infusion of funds came
from Morton D. "Buster" May, then chairman of the board for
May Department Stores Co.
"He read my proposal, gave it back to me and told me to
rewrite it and come back in two weeks. He ultimately gave me
$5,000," Starkloff said. "He became one of our biggest
supporters over the years."
In 1980, Starkloff and other disability leaders formed the
National Council on Independent Living.
Justin Dart, a disability rights advocate based in Washington,
said, "Max is one of the hall-of-fame pioneers of the disability
"He initiated and expanded Paraquad as a significant,
cutting-edge social agency before there was strong federal
A major influence in Starkloff's life and work has been his wife,
Colleen Starkloff, whom he met in 1973 after she took a job as
a physical therapist at his nursing home. After Starkloff got
news of an additional $10,000 in funding from May, he called
her and asked her to marry him. The wedding was in 1975.
"It was easy to fall in love with him because he was very
good-looking, and he was a person of real substance," she
Today, the Starkloffs have three children: Meaghan, 21; Max,
15; and Emily, 12.
Colleen Starkloff noted how her husband had managed the
growth of Paraquad and how he had brought coalitions of
people together to advise and help the organization.
At the same time, she said: "He's not a day-to-day manager.
He's a visionary."
Relinquishing the reins
Max Starkloff has spent the past few months at home
recovering from hip surgery. Although he says he is resting, he
spends much of his time on conference calls and meetings held
at his bedside. He hopes to be working at full capacity in a few
Thinking about this transition has not always been easy.
Starkloff said he started to worry that a new director might not
share his philosophies. There were some schisms within the
organization about whether the new director should be more
manager or more advocate for independent living.
"A number of people were in an uproar," said David J.
Newburger, a St. Louis-based civil rights attorney and member
of Paraquad's board of directors. "Since the appointment (of
Funk) became clear, it's over. Bob is a real consensus choice."
Among Funk's first tasks will be to make some organizational
"It needs to be managed like a business with a small 'b,' " he
Funk also hopes to add office space for the squeezed staff and
to have an office closer to the city than the current facility on
North Lindbergh Boulevard.
"I'd like to have a place where people can drop in," Funk said.
"That becomes a source of power."
He also sees potential to increase the number of people served
by Paraquad's personal-assistant service program, which helps
a disabled person hire an attendant to help him or her with
tasks such as bathing or dressing.
As Starkloff moves out of day-to-day management duties, he
will be moving to address the broader concerns of disabled
people in St. Louis and across the country. He hopes his new
efforts will result in policies for dealing with issues such as
employment and personal-assistant programs.
"I like ideas, I like to get things started," Starkloff said. "You
can't be disabled as long as I have and not have something to
offer the movement."
What Starkloff started and plans to continue was a way for
people like him to live independently.
"Twenty-seven years ago I was in a nursing home," he
observed. "I went from wondering whether I should get up at
10 a.m. the next morning to worrying about getting to the
airport on time for a flight to Tokyo."
The Bob Funk File
Name: Robert J. Funk.
Position: Chief executive and executive director of Paraquad.
October 1979 - November 1987: Founded and was executive
director of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, a
nonprofit disability law and policy center in Berkeley, Calif.
January 1989 - June 1989: Special assistant to the director,
President's Committee on Employment of People with
June 1989 - October 1989: Consultant to the White House,
where he helped develop the Americans with Disabilities Act.
November 1989 - January 1993: Chief of staff for the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, where his tasks included
implementation of the ADA.
April 1993 - August 1997: Chief operating officer, Evan Kemp
Associates Inc., a Washington-based marketing company that
focused on people with disabilities.
September 1997 - April 2001: President and chief executive of
EKA Health and Mobility Systems Inc., a medical services
company based in Washington.
Disability: Funk lost his left leg to an infection he contracted
while serving in the Peace Corps in Nigeria.
Family: Married to Lisa Gorove. Three children: Aaron, 27;
Caitlin, 7; Jacob, 5.
Reporter: Jennifer LaFleur \
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org \