David & Jacob: Living our values at Clemson University

Relationships and faith guide two recent initiates living out our values at Clemson University

“David, Jacob!” The two young men entered the house as casually as if it were their own parents’ home. David headed straight to Mrs. Clements to show off his new associate member pin and copy of The White Diamond. The two had come directly from their pre-initiation ritual with the Zeta Alpha Chapter (Clemson) to share the excitement of their experience with a very close friend . . . the university president. Jim Clements was clearly happy to see the two, and has a very close relationship with them.

“David and Jacob are two of the most incredible guys I know. I love them both,” said Jim Clements, president of Clemson University. David and Jacob have had the opportunity to build a close relationship with President Clements and his wife through the ClemsonLIFE Program which is designed for students with intellectual disabilities who desire a postsecondary experience on a college campus.

“They are both like rock stars on this campus,” said Jim. “They are loved and adored by many. Both are always positive and such a joy to be around. I am blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with them on the campus and at my house. You can’t find two nicer guys. Seriously.”

Fraternity is relationships

Pi Kappa Phi is about relationships. Brothers, fathers and sons—the fraternity continues to thrive and grow because the men of Pi Kappa Phi see the value in relationships with others. David and Jacob’s story—this story—is about relationships: their parents’ deep friendship and faith, their friendship with each other and their fraternal bond through the Zeta Alpha Chapter at Clemson, the relationship they have with the ClemsonLIFE Program and the university president, and David’s relationship with the Clemson football team. David and Jacob are two young men that understand fraternal values and the importance of friendships. Their positive spirit shapes who they are and their drive is an inspiration to not only the people with disabilities, but every person and group they touch.

“David and Jacob add positivity to everything they attend. Very few people can give a smile like they can. They mean a lot to us,” said Drayton Reeley, philanthropy chair of Zeta Alpha Chapter.

Family relationships

In 1972, William (Billy) Stark was initiated into the Alpha Eta Chapter at Samford. Billy is Jacob’s dad. As an undergraduate, Billy showed his strength as a leader and rose to the rank of archon. Executive Director Emeritus Durward Owen took notice and appointed Billy to serve on the first national Council of Archons.

Billy has also built a strong friendship with Glenn Aspinwall, Gamma Kappa (Georgia Southern), and Bobby Saville (David’s dad). The three, living in the Atlanta area, have been close for decades and belong to the same men’s group at church among other activities.

When Jacob was born he suffered from severe seizures. His parents had to make serious decisions on how to deal with his medical situation. Already close family friends, Bobby and Diane Saville were supportive of the Starks as they searched for either a cure or relief for Jacob’s seizures. Six months after Jacob’s birth, David was born with Down syndrome. In an interesting twist of fate, the Stark family now had the opportunity to repay their friends’ kindness and stand by the Savilles as they worked through the early years with David. Their parents’ bond paved the path for Jacob and David’s friendship.

Jacob continued to battle with seizures until age 14, when he had a surgical procedure that eliminated his seizures. “It was one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make to go forward with the surgery,” recalls Jacob’s mom Sallie. “We prayed and knew it was the right decision to end his seizures. It was hard because some family and friends disagreed with our decision.”

Up until that point, Jacob and his family had lived knowing that without constant watch and care, one of those seizures could easily have been his last. The procedure left him with some limited intellectual and physical disabilities. There seems to be no doubt in Jacob’s mind, though, whether he thinks the procedure was a good idea. If you ask him, he will tell you, with a smile, exactly how long he has been seizure free to the day.

As they got older, Jacob and David both attended different high schools and were very active and involved youth. David developed a passion for football and became a local celebrity as the team manager. The coaches and team embraced David, his love of the game and his outgoing personality. Toward the end of high school, Jacob and David expressed to their parents a desire to have a college experience. Around the same time, a Clemson football coach approached David’s parents and stated that David should attend Clemson and be a part of the football team. The Saville’s research into Clemson University lead them to the ClemsonLIFE program. The family was definitely nervous about David leaving the safe, supportive community that he had built in Atlanta to move to Clemson, S.C., but they also knew that it was a great opportunity for growth. David was accepted to both the ClemsonLIFE program as well as the ranks of the Clemson Tigers. Once again, David’s positive spirit and enthusiasm for football turned him into a fan favorite while he performed his role as an equipment manager.

A year after David started, Jacob was accepted into the ClemsonLIFE program and began attending school with his longtime family friend.

Zeta Alpha Chapter

In the spring and fall of 2014, Pi Kappa Phi started and continued the expansion process on the Clemson University campus. Expansion Consultants Keenan Dollar, Theta Alpha (Southern Miss), and Trae Hestness, Alpha Omicron (Iowa State), had a very successful recruitment in the spring and returned for the fall semester to focus on brotherhood, philanthropy and teaching the chapter how to recruit on their own.

“In the fall, I got a call from Glenn Aspinwall, who serves on the Pi Kappa Phi Properties board, about an opportunity to connect the chapter with some students from ClemsonLIFE,” said Trae Hestness. “Glenn told me more about Jacob and David and things took off.” Many chapter members already volunteered with ClemsonLIFE and knew both Jacob and David.

“I sat down with Jacob Stark first and I don’t think I’ve seen a kid enjoy life with a smile on his face as much as Jacob does,” Trae shared. “I told him that his dad is a member of Pi Kappa Phi and I’d like to have him join.” “When we learned we had the opportunity to bring David and Jacob into the chapter, we did it without a thought,” said Drayton.

“Their membership has meant a lot to me personally,” said Drayton. “Having learning challenges myself and seeing what they have overcome, I can brush the smaller things off. If it wasn’t for their involvement with our chapter, I certainly would not have known them as well. For me personally, I am glad I joined Pi Kappa Phi over any other organization because they embrace people of all abilities. It’s great to be a part of an organization that acts on what it preaches.”

One of Drayton’s favorite moments with David and Jacob was after a Clemson football victory.

“After every game at Clemson, it’s tradition, win or lose, to rush the field and sing the alma mater with the players and coaches,” brags Drayton. “It was a very special moment. I put my arms around David and Jacob and we sung. Also with David working for the team, it is always fun to see him in his element.”

David and Jacob’s parents were thrilled that their sons and the Clemson undergraduates found each other. While neither of the Savilles are members of a fraternal organization themselves, Diane recalls a particularly strong example of fraternity. “Late one night, Jacob’s bus never arrived to pick him up, and so he called a brother who got up out of bed and went and picked him up. It was a simple gesture, but it meant the world to Jacob,” said Diane, “to have that support, through the fraternity, it’s just amazing.”

The greater fraternity

In January, David and Jacob were invited to speak at the Pi Kapp College for Chapter Officers in Charlotte. “Jacob and David realize they have a role to play. They don’t try to play up their disabilities. They are just themselves. They just take it in stride,” said Bobby.

It was a powerful experience for both David and Jacob’s families as well as the undergraduate brothers in attendance.

“David and Jacob kind of struggled through their speeches but those boys just stood up and gave them a standing ovation. Afterward, boys were coming up to them, patting them on the back and telling them what a great job they did. It was a tearjerker,” said Diane.

The atmosphere in the room was alive with the spirit of brotherhood—brotherhood greater than individual chapters, a brotherhood that the founders would take pride in.

“We were amazed with all the comments on Twitter—guys sharing the experience of David and Jacob’s presentation,” said Billy and Sallie. “You look at that room of 400 guys and think about how many may have family members with special needs. I’m sure that they all look back and think about that connection and what the boys had to say.”

When asked if David enjoys speaking in front of audiences, his mom, Diane, said with a smile that he has been speaking at funerals for years.“He wants to do it. He wants to express his heart and how he feels.”

On March 7, 2015, Jacob and David were initiated alongside 68 other young men into the Zeta Alpha Chapter of Pi Kappa Phi.

“To me and Zeta Alpha, their membership has been a way to practically live out the values of Pi Kappa Phi and The Ability Experience,” said chapter Chaplain Baxter Morgan. “They have given us opportunities and connections to serve, love, and give to the ClemsonLIFE program while receiving back just as much we pour into them.”

As we were finishing this article, we reached back out to President Clements to follow up on a few more questions. He had to cut the conversation a little short because he had a more important FaceTime coming in. . . David and Jacob.