Few could have anticipated the good fortune that would befall Cornelius Vander Starr. Born in 1892 to struggling European immigrants, Vander Starr was unremarkable by any measure. He was raised on the Pomo Indian reservation in Mendocino County, California where a military post, Ft. Bragg, had been established to keep settlers at bay while elites extracted the resources. Resident lumber mills processed trees and shipped the wood to local ports and rail lines. His father worked as an engineer on the California Western Railroads alongside Chinese coolies.

Against all odds, Starr rose from obscurity to preside over one of the largest, most profitable insurance companies in the world. He was an overnight sensation. “Some men leave an indelible mark on their colleagues without planning to do so,” the Starr Foundation reminisced. “Yet, so content are they on living and working and doing that they find neither the time nor the patience for keeping any records of what they have accomplished or how they lived. Starr was such a man whose brilliance and remarkable energy were matched only by a passion for anonymity that amounted to almost shyness. But where the mark of a man has been left, it can be found.”

Before his career took flight, Starr’s mother opened the family house to boarders while the young Starr swept the halls of the local branch of the Odd Fellows, an international fraternity founded in England in 1066 and which counted Scottish freemason Alfred Pike, the author of Morals and Dogma, as a member. Odd Fellows recruited men from the trades and lower classes to help them establish businesses, provide for their welfare, and collaborate with each other to dominate local markets, propelling many to success that would not have realized on their own.

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