In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Howard Cloyes Starnes, 91

Howard Cloyes Starnes, 1929-2021

Howard Cloyes Starnes, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel among the East Asian Affinity Peoples in South Korea, died Feb. 17, 2021, at Haywood Regional Medical Center in Clyde, North Carolina. He was 91.

A native of Buncombe County, North Carolina, he was born May 11, 1929, to the late Thomas Albert and Hazel Cloyes Starnes. He received the Associate of Arts from Mars Hill (North Carolina) College, the Bachelor of Arts and the Master of Arts from Baylor University, Waco, Texas, and the Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.

Starnes became a Christian at age 9 and wrote when applying to serve as a missionary, “I have been interested in missions as long as I can remember. The quoting of the Royal Ambassador (mission organization for boys) allegiance was a serious thing for me as an R.A.” Missionaries to China who spoke in his church also made a strong impression on him, he wrote.

At Mars Hill College, he wrote, after praying for months with his roommate, he decided God was calling him into the ministry. The next summer he made a public commitment to foreign missions.

After he finished seminary, he moved back to North Carolina and served as interim pastor and Baptist Student director at the Cullowhee Baptist Church on the campus of Western Carolina College (now University). There he met Mary Jo Bumgarner, and they were married in 1957.

In 1960, the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) appointed them missionaries to South Korea, where they lived in Taejon and Seoul. Starnes spent most of his years in Korea in general evangelism working with Baptist churches and associations there. The Starneses retired in 1991.

After returning to the U.S., Starnes was adjunct professor at Charleston Southern University.  He later was a member of the North Carolina pastor’s association and was a member of Encouraging Word Baptist Church in Waynesville.

Starnes was preceded in death by his wife of 61 years, Mary Jo Bumgarner Starnes, who died in 2017.  He is survived by a daughter, Sandra Maria Hulesman (Steven) of Kathleen, Georgia; a son, David Russell Starnes of Daytona Beach, Florida; six grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

A celebration of life was held on Feb. 21, 2021, at Encouraging Word Baptist Church.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Lottie Moon Offering, IMB, 3806 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230, or online at

Read an obituary here.