Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Stan the Kayaking Man: A Mississippi River Tale

Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Reporter Brooke Holford interviews Stan Stark, known as "Stan the Kayaking Man." Stark is paddling 2,400 miles down the Mississippi River in a kayak; Stark is using this opportunity to raise awareness and funds for Sarge's Place, a shelter for homeless veterans.
Photo by Jan Salmon

An 81-year-old retired Navy Seabee is proving it is never too late to follow your dreams by paddling a sea kayak approximately 2,400 miles down the full length of the Mississippi River.

Stan Stark, known as “Stan the Kayaking Man” will set the world record for being the oldest person to paddle this feat upon completion.

Stark is making this paddle to raise awareness and funds for Sarge’s Place, a Washington state shelter for homeless veterans.

Stark is well on his way to breaking the record; the retired veteran and the two kayakers who have joined him along the way stopped in Cape Girardeau from Wednesday, Sept. 16, to Friday, Sept. 18.

While Stark may set a Guinness World Record with this voyage, he said the most rewarding part of this journey are the people he’s met along the way.

A large group of community members, city officials, local veterans and university members gathered to welcome the kayakers on Wednesday, waving flags and cheering for the approaching trio.

Several Southeast students, alumni and employees had the chance to meet Stark during his visit.

Southeast senior Daniel Wallace said he went to the riverfront on Wednesday with a few of his brothers in Sigma Nu Fraternity to welcome Stark.

Wallace said they spoke with Stark at the riverfront because they wanted to show their support for the veteran. After hearing his stories, Wallace said he felt inspired.

“I found Stan very inspirational because he’s raising awareness and funds for veterans,” Wallace said. “Not only is he attempting to break a world record, he has been very modest and humble about how it’s more important to recognize the veterans who have gone unnoticed in the world.”

Stark was also welcomed by Thomas Meyer, retired Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents member and a fellow retired Navy Seabee.

Meyer said when he heard what Stark was doing, and that he was a Seabee, he immediately put on his Seabee gear and rushed to the river to meet him.

Meyer said it’s rare for him to find another Seabee, but to find someone who has been through the same training and combat situations, Meyer said, is “just like putting two brothers together.”

“I was in awe of [Stark] — he’s a very determined person to make the effort and accomplish what he’s doing,” Meyer said. “Of course, the Seabees were known for doing the impossible; our motto was ‘can do,’ so it really doesn’t surprise me because that’s just how we were.”

While in Cape Girardeau, Stark and his travel companions also visited Missouri’s National Veteran’s Memorial in Perryville, Missouri, and the Avenue of Flags Memorial in Cape County Park. There was a send-off for the group on Friday morning.

Southeast alumna and Mississippi River Paddlers “river angel” Judy Cantoni helped arrange Stark’s visit. As a river angel, Cantoni assists those kayaking or canoeing down the Mississippi River in any way she can.

Cantoni said she followed Stark through the tracker on his website,, and spread the word about Stark’s arrival on Facebook.

Cape Girardeau is one of many stops Stark has planned for his long trek down the Mississippi.

Stark said he wanted to stop in Cape Girardeau because he had visited the city previously and “knew it was a beautiful city with wonderful people.”

To make a donation to Sarge’s Place or follow Stark along his journey with the virtual tracker, visit

“A remarkable journey:” Flora, fauna and friendship on the Mississippi

Chase Brennen arrives in Cape Girardeau with Stan Stark on Sept. 16, 2020.
Photo by Jan Salmon

Stark began his kayaking journey alone at the Mississippi River’s headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, July 15.

Fast-forward two months later, it seems Stark is anything but alone.

Stark has been making waves in the Midwest as word of his journey has spread through Facebook and other social media — the traveler has gained a large following.

Throughout this adventure, Stark said he has been able to “meet beautiful people while also learning about the region.”

“There’s beauty along the river that you couldn’t even imagine,” Stark said. “The flora and fauna, and especially the people.”

Kayakers from across the Midwest have joined Stark on the river, he said, and locals living along the banks of the Mississippi River have offered him “kindness and support” on his journey by providing food or shelter for the travelers.

Stark said he was “in awe” when the trio paddled into Cape Girardeau and saw the large group of people waiting for them. That was the largest welcoming they had received so far, he said.

Brian Hoover and Chase Brennen are two kayakers who joined Stark early on in his adventure, and they said they plan to paddle all the way to the Gulf of Mexico with Stark.

Prior to coming together on the river, Hoover, Brennen and Stark had never met each other. Brennen said since then, a unique bond has been created between the trio.

“We all want to complete this feat — and we’re doing it together — so through that, we have developed this great friendship,” Brennen said.

Stark said he had been thinking about completing this feat for the past few years but hadn’t gotten around to it. However, Stark said his wife passed away not too long ago, and after that, he found he had a lot of free time on his hands.

Stark said wherever he visits, he hopes to act as a motivation to others that “you are never too old to do anything.”

“You only have one life, so do the things you want to do, and have fun,” Stark said.

Stark plans to finish his journey around the end of October at the Gulf of Mexico.