A very unShackelton-like ‘Antarctic Explorer’
AS A WRITER, Gloria Cassity Stargel, WC ’77, always looks “for a story that has a little twist to it,” she says, gesturing with her tiny hand like she’s jimmying a lock with an imaginary screwdriver. Those foundling bits others ignore make her stories memorable and, in a word professional journalists need to learn, salable. Although the latter term may seem a bit out of place for a woman who specializes in writing inspirational pieces for publications like Guideposts and Decision, the magazine of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, Stargel has mastered the art of recycling articles from magazine to magazine to anthologies. She’s had pieces republished in 35 collections like the highly popular Chicken Soup for the Soul and God’s Way series. “I’m a better marketer than I am a writer,” she says. “It takes a lot of detective work to find out what publications are interested in and lots of patience. And, Lord knows, I’m as stubborn as a bulldog.”
What’s “the little twist” in Gloria Stargel’s personal story? There are a couple. First, like a preacher to the pulpit, Stargel says she “felt the call” to pursue religious journalism, returning to college after a 27-year absence. But a really big twist is that the petite inspirational story writer is a card-carrying member of the Old Antarctic Explorers Association, an international organization with about 1,300 members who have worked on the continent in some capacity. OAE takes its name from the esoteric term used by military and scientific types stationed there in the decade following World War II when South Pole exploration was a really big thing. The twist is Stargel never set foot on Antarctic ice, even on one of the eco-tours that for about $5,000 will let you look for tap-dancing penguins from the movie Happy Feet.
However, as a writer she also follows Rule No. 1, “write about what you know.” Her first book was The Healing, an inspirational story re-published in 2000, about her husband Joe’s successfully overcoming what was thought to be incurable cancer. She also wrote about her brother Oscar Cassity, an Air Force transport pilot who specialized in taking off and landing under dangerously shaky circumstances. Her favorite part of Oscar’s story is about the general who held up in one hand a report from an aircraft manufacturer saying its plane was incapable of transporting heavy equipment to the South Pole; in the other he held a dispatch which said Capt. Cassity that very morning landed that very aircraft in Antarctica, successfully delivering a huge Caterpillar tractor.
“That bulldozer made everything else possible,” says Stargel. “With it they built the first airstrip. Then they brought in more equipment. Nothing was there before my brother hauled in that bulldozer. Because of that family connection, I feel like I’m as much a part of opening up Antarctica as anyone.”
So does the association. When Oscar died in May 2006, the OAE allowed Stargel to keep a membership because she had written so lucidly about those early days of Antarctic exploration. “I was quite touched and honored,” she says.
Stargel’s not making any plans to travel to the pole. But as she says it, you detect some clicking behind her eyes as the writer’s brain looks for another little twist.