A fixture in Bartow’s faith-based and athletic communities, Don Startup continues to serve as a source of inspiration and strength to his expanding family. The father of three adult sons, Tabernacle Baptist Church’s worship pastor is fondly referred to as Pops by his nine grandchildren.
“I love the relationship I have with my boys today,” Startup said, referring to his sons — Drew, 37; Will, 34; and Nick, 33. “I am still Dad, but they are so much more to me. They are great prayer warriors and encouragers to me and Allison.
“Life and/or ministry is not always easy, so it helps tremendously to have these guys to share life’s load and to pray with us and for us. I watch all of my sons continue to invest in others and to invest in their community. They are sons, friends and at times they become mentors to me.”
As with raising their sons, Startup’s wife of 40 years shared he is ever-present in the lives of his grandchildren.
“Describing Don as a father really shows up best in observing Drew, Will and Nick's beliefs and their personalities,” Allison Startup said. “As a dad, he has been extremely involved in their upbringing. … When Don, Drew, Will and Nick get together, it is hilarious and loud. Our house has way too many old ‘stories’ of past adventures. It's a party to just sit and listen and laugh.
“Copeland, Price, Jude, Henley, Afton, Lark, Ellany Kate, Beckett and Daphne each know how much their Pops loves them,” she said about their grandchildren. “He's a very active grandfather and tries his best to attend their piano, soccer, singing, dance, piano, football, school events and the list goes on. When he's around his grandchildren, he likes to see what they're interested in and is happy to join in whatever activity they are enjoying.”
Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Startup joined Tabernacle Baptist’s staff in 1994. Over the years, he also has provided support to Bartow’s National Day of Prayer gathering, and is known in the community for being the Cartersville High School baseball PA announcer and a member of the WBHF high school football radio broadcast team.
“I am blessed with a great church family and worship ministry family,” he said. “I love our community. Cartersville has been a wonderful place to raise our family and to now watch the next generations finding their place.
“I love being involved in our community. I find joy in the relationships formed through Cartersville High School baseball and football, and my WBHF radio family. Lou Gehrig has nothing on me.”
Calling his oldest son a “terrific big brother,” Startup said Drew is an “active and dedicated father and husband.” Initially a math teacher and baseball coach at his alma mater, Cartersville High, Drew followed in his father’s footsteps and entered the ministry in the early 2010s. Serving at Cartersville First Baptist Church for the past seven years, he currently is the place of worship’s associate pastor.
“My dad actually cautioned me against going into church ministry because it is not easy and you must be sure of your calling,” said Drew, who resides in Cartersville with his wife, Lauren, and their four children: Price, 8; Henley, 6; Ellany Kate, 4; and Beckett, 2. “He told me, ‘If God didn't call you to do this, then you don't need to do it, but if He did then you need to obey.’
“God did call me to minister to people through the local church. Even though it can be hard sometimes, it is an honor to walk beside people in their tough and joyous times in life.”
Still providing support to the CHS baseball team, Drew — and his father — both serve as Fellowship of Christian Athletes character coaches for the Canes. In his youth, Drew played baseball for Cartersville High from 1997 to 1999 and Shorter University from 2000 to 2003, where he was named to the All-Conference Team his senior year.
“Our kids started playing baseball at a pretty early age and it became a 25-plus year pursuit for our family,” Startup said. “However, baseball was not at all, all about baseball. I love team sports and the life lessons that can be gleaned from those experiences — good and bad.
“Our family made many great friendships and created bonds with other families that continue to this day. We literally have friends all over the country from our time spent ‘investing’ in our boys. Our family in Christ grew tremendously as God added families to our church and to the faith family over the years through baseball.”
Referring to his middle son as “funny and fun-loving,” Startup said Will has a passion for baseball and enjoys nature.
After playing baseball for CHS and the University of Georgia, he was drafted in 2005 by the Atlanta Braves, and advanced to triple-A. Now the father of two — 8-year-old Copeland and 4-year-old Afton — Will and his wife, Laurén, reside in Cumming. He is a designer for Mizuno USA and served four years as Parkway Church’s youth director.
“My dad is one of the most caring people I know,” Will said. “He always took the time to be interested in what I liked to do. He would take me to the baseball park and throw me batting practice and hit me ground balls and pop flies.
“I believe that was something he passed on to me. Now I value the time I have with my kids. It may be playing with dolls or coloring or playing hide-and-go-seek. I realize I have one shot at being a dad and every day counts.”
During his childhood, Will enjoyed “first-time experiences” with his father, such as attending a Major League Baseball game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, playing laser tag and visiting Stone Mountain. Throughout their time together, what he loved most was seeing his dad “act like a kid.”
“We had some intense games of tag in the house when we were teenagers,” Will said. “It always ended with someone getting mildly hurt and everybody laughing.
“Over the years, my relationship has evolved into a friendship. Now we take time as a family to pour into our kids — his grandchildren. Normally you can find us all piled into someone’s house and a game of wiffle ball eventually breaks out.”
Still attending Tabernacle Baptist, Startup’s youngest son serves the church in various capacities, including being a member of the choir, a Sunday school teacher and a children’s ministry helper.
Described by his father as a “creative young man” who is a “hard worker and tackles projects with gusto,” Nick resides in Cartersville with his wife, Allie, and their three children: Jude, 7; Lark, 4; and Daphne, 1. He is the operations director for Dempsey Funeral Services and was inducted Friday as the president of the Georgia Cemetery Association.
“My father has always displayed great balance in leadership with our family,” Nick said. “He is both gentle and firm in a way that clearly shows me I am truly loved. I have learned a lot through his example, but the most important thing he taught me is that we all make mistakes. I grew up understanding that perfection is not what I should chase after, but rather I should live in the grace and mercy of God.
“I have learned through his example how important it is for me and my family to be involved and serve in church. As a child, he took me to church, he found joy and comfort in worship, he prayed for me and he never gave up on me; these are some of the reasons I am in church today. My father taught me that you must take action beyond the words you speak in order to make an impact.”
As his sons have grown older, Startup delights in his family partaking in an activity he enjoyed with his late father.
“Each year around Father’s Day, we make a trip to Dixie Speedway to spend a night at the dirt track,” he said. “Last year, we took all the grandsons and had a ball.
“I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and my dad took me to the race track every week. I have been a lifelong NASCAR fan as a result. None of my boys would be considered a race fan, but it is just the joy of having this adventure together that makes it fun. And the concession stand is a big hit.”
Along with considering himself “blessed with a wife that loves the Lord, loves people and has been just as committed and ‘all in’ for ministry from day one of our journey together,” Startup also is “grateful” to his father for imparting life and faith lessons.
“I learned core values from my dad and I wanted to pass them along to my sons,” Startup said. “‘Let your yes be yes and your no be no’ and ‘treat others like you want to be treated’ are the two I remember most from my dad. My dad has been gone since 2014 and I miss him, but I am extremely grateful for the practical life lessons, the faith lessons and values received from him.
“I hope I have learned something along the way, but I can be a slow learner. I often say that I really appreciate my sons in that they have been very kind to me. They have been a lot easier on me than I was on my dad — thank you, Lord.”
For Startup, his favorite Father’s Days are when he has the opportunity to talk with his sons.
“Many years we have been separated by distance, but we always touch base and have a good ‘catch-up’ conversation,” he said. “I also loved the Father's Days when the boys were little.
“The homemade gifts and cards were the best. I still get a homemade card or two on Father's Day to this day. The best gifts come from the heart. My wife is really good at that too. She knows I love shrimp and a nice shrimp cocktail usually shows up around Father's Day — love it.”
At age 61, Startup still is serving as a role model for his grown sons, with Drew saying, “My dad is often the first person I go to for wisdom and advice about situations.”
He shared, his dad “is a God-fearing man who loves Jesus more than anything, who loves his family and who genuinely loves other people. I want to be like him when I grow up.”