Recently Rev. Dr. Jeanel Loretta Daniels-Starling was honored at a retirement ceremony that celebrated her commitment to the Milford community through her service as an educator and church and civic leader. Family, friends and colleagues paid tribute to her work through praise, songs and stories of past memories. The ceremony highlighted events in her life as she was moved “from the cotton fields, to the boardroom, to the pulpit.”
Jeanel Loretta Daniels-Starling, daughter of Daisy Daniels and the late Garfield W. Daniels, Sr., is one of thirteen children born in Norfolk, Virginia. Dr. Starling’s parents moved the family to North Carolina and later to Delaware in search for better working opportunities. While in North Carolina, she accompanied her family in the cotton fields, string bean fields, potato fields, and cabbage fields to weed the tender cabbage plants. Rev. Starling, detested fieldwork with a passion and therefore developed a strong determination to succeed in life with a promising career.
In the Daniels home, close family relations, meetings, and devotions were highly regarded. It was during those times of family togetherness that the bond of love and respect for humankind, particularly those less fortunate, that influenced Dr. Starling. The value of education and pride in one’s self and upbringing were expressed in the home frequently as well as in the school and church. Moreover, learning that people are more important than material things was part of Dr. Starling’s socialization or home environment. Primary to Dr. Starling’s, socialization is the knowledge that the love of God far exceeds anything imaginable. She learned that education is something that no one can take away. Such values were major influences in Dr. Starling’s life and initiated her journey of care and concern for others.
Initially she wanted to become an actress. Her next goal was to become a lawyer to assist those unable to secure legal service. However, her goals shifted upon entering fourth grade. There she met a tiny, sophisticated, eloquent, and well-educated teacher from Boston named Ruth B. Doxey. This tiny caring, yet firm teacher had a way of making her students feel like they were the most important people in the world. Her distinctive Bostonian accent charmed her students and especially Dr. Starling who was so inspired that she knew in fourth grade she would become a teacher. She believed she could make a difference in the lives of children just as Ruth B. Doxey did for her.
Rev. Starling graduated from the former William C. Jason High School, Georgetown, Delaware in 1961. Additionally, she married James O. Starling Sr. in 1961 and entered Delaware State College the same year. Two children were born during her years as a student at Delaware State, yet Dr. Starling would not be discouraged. She continued her education after each child was 6 months old. She was determined to earn her Bachelors Degree, although working late at night reading and writing papers, while preparing baby formulas and washing clothes. Her hands were full, yet her drive and motivation to succeed was ingrained.
By 1968 she graduated from Delaware State College and obtained her first teaching position in Dover. She continued her education by attending Salisbury State College and graduated in 1975 with a Masters Degree in Education. There were times she had to take her children with her to class. While pursing her education; Dr. Starling became a certified layspeaker in 1975 in the United Methodist Church. The certification afforded her the opportunity to preach in her local church and beyond.
In 1983 she was certified in administration and two years later she became the first African-American assistant principal of the Milford Middle School, located in Milford, DE and the first African-American female principal in Sussex County. During this time she also created and implemented the Slaughter Neck Community Action Tutorial Program with her sister Roslyn Harris, which gained state and local recognition. Her love for children and their success in and out of school drew parents from neighboring communities wanting their children in the program. The publicity initiated many calls for consultation with those wishing to develop a tutorial program in their communities. In 1989, Dr. Starling became the principal of Lakeview Elementary School and was accepted into the doctoral program at the University of Delaware. She earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership in 1993. During the summer of 1993, Dr. Starling became the principal of Lulu M. Ross Elementary School and remained there until 1998. In 1995, she was voted as elementary principal of the year for the state of Delaware.Under her leadership, Ross became a Professional Development School in partnership with the University of Delaware to establish the Southern Delaware Teacher Education Program.
In 1998, Dr. Starling was appointed pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church, retired as principal of Lulu Ross School and became the first coordinator of the Southern Delaware Teacher Education Program for the University of Delaware. While principal at Ross Dr. Starling, was moved by God to attend seminary. She graduated May 25, 2002 from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary located in Philadelphia, PA. with a Master of Divinity Degree. She retired from the University of Delaware, May, 2003. During the summer of 2003, Dr. Starling became a probationary elder in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church. She studied diligently for three years to become a full elder. On March 6, 2006, she interviewed and was approved to become an ordained elder. She was ordained a full elder of the Peninsula Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church June 10, 2006 during the Annual Peninsula-Delaware Conference.
Dr. Starling is involved in varied community and civic organizations and remains active with the family’s gospel singing group, The Daniels Family Gospel Singers. Dr. Starling plays a major role in keeping the family spiritually grounded and bonded. She is a firm believer in family togetherness and unity. She believes in treating all people with respect and dignity regardless of who they are. Most of all, she believes she was created to make a difference in the lives of those she meet as she travels this journey with God. In addition, Dr. Starling serves as an advocate for parents needing assistance understanding educational jargon while attending parent conferences, special education and discipline meetings. Moreover, she has received numerous awards, involved in many community and civic organizations and is also a motivational speaker.