"We admired him, we all loved him."
The sanctuary at St. Francis Xavier Church on the Saint Louis University campus was filled today with people who had gathered for one purpose - to remember the life of Max Starkloff.
Such a crowd, said former Washington University chancellor William Danforth, would have been unheard of in 1959, when an automobile accident left Starkloff a paraplegic and living in a nursing home at the age of 21.
"The world would have expected to hear no more of Max Starkloff, and rather looked forward to confinement, obscurity, and probably early death, with very few attending his service," he said.
But Starkloff, who died December 27 at the age of 73, became one of the top disability rights advocates in the country. While still in that nursing home, he founded Paraquad - then lived its mission by marrying his wife Colleen and leaving the nursing home. Thanks to his efforts, Metro (then BiState) became the first to have lifts on its buses. He sued the St. Louis Zoo to make the park more accessible.
Just recently, Max and Colleen founded the Starkloff Disability Institute to push for the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.
"Many people have called him an activist," said his nephew, Christian Saller.
"I've always thought a better term for his life and his legacy is revolutionary. Activists may add a lot to the discussion, but revolutionaries start the conversation and exert the most fundamental change."
Starkloff's wife Colleen survives him, as do his son Max and daughter Meaghan, and four grandchildren. A daughter, Emily, died in 2008.
Tomorrow, St. Louis on the Air will have a tribute to Starkloff and a discussion about improving the quality of life for people with disabilities.