Pauls Valley's slogan is “We're not your ordinary small town.” Go to the Department of Tourism's website www.travelok.com and under Pauls Valley, click on “Festivals and Events” and see the diverse and eclectic mix of yearly activities — events such as Brickfest, Thunder in the Valley, Okie Noodling Tournament, Living Dead Center Festival and Zombie 5K Run, just to name a few.
Having brought numerous ideas to the community, Kevin Stark is a man who has been described as a cross between the Pied Piper and the Willy Wonka of Pauls Valley. He's a big supporter of all things tourism and is always one of the first to beat the bandwagon to get things happening.
Stark has been one of the main forces behind the city's arts initiative. He is the founder of the Toy and Action Figure Museum, a place that offers an assortment of superheroes, space icons, space villains, renegades of all kinds and other fun toys all displayed in a 6,000-square-foot building.
My family has made numerous trips to the Action Figure Museum and it always makes for an extremely entertaining and lively outing. Stark and his staff routinely change displays and exhibits.
There's an interactive area where kids can dress up as their favorite superhero. It's been fun to see the looks on the faces of adults who walk into this colorful treasure trove of nostalgia and childhood memories.
As a boy growing up in McAlester, I loved Superman and Batman comic books. So, when I strolled into the museum for the first time and saw the huge collection of Batman memorabilia, especially Batmobiles, I felt like a kid all over again.
“I collect tons of Batman,” Stark said. “And within Batman, I like to collect Batmobiles. One of my favorite pieces isn't actually an action figure. It's the 1966 Batmobile that Hot Wheels put out. It's a large scale dye cast Batmobile. I've been waiting years for that.”
A few years ago, Time Magazine selected 50 Authentic American Experiences, one destination from each state that reflected the local feel and culture of the area and its people. The Toy and Action Figure Museum was selected as Oklahoma's Authentic American Experience.
Stark is a gifted and talented artist in his own right, too. His studio, called “Stark Art,” is in downtown Pauls Valley. There, one can see his pen-and-ink drawings, watercolors and oils. He's also an action figure designer, comic strip creator and recently opened what is now one of the busiest restaurants in the area, Stark's Fine Dining. The restaurant bug hit him many years ago and, despite all the hard work, he absolutely loves it.
“It's like having a dinner party every night but, you just don't know who's showing up,” Stark said.
Stark Fine Dining offers an urban experience. The restaurant is located just north of Pauls Valley, off Interstate 35. Along with an extremely diverse menu, there's a very casual and comfortable atmosphere. It's not your ordinary restaurant in a not-so-ordinary small town that also boasts a not-so-ordinary museum and art gallery.
Dino Lalli is the producer, a reporter and co-host of the weekly TV travel show AAA's Discover Oklahoma.