Like grandfather, like grandson

Published 6:55 am Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jeff Austin may be too young to remember vividly his grandfather’s many years on city council, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make a big impact on his life.

The 48-year-old current councilman said one of the big reasons he went into local government was the influence of Wayne Austin, who served on council from 1951 to 1963.

“He was very active in the community,” Jeff Austin said. “It was a major influence on me.”

Wayne Austin passed away in 1975 when Jeff was just 14, but the current councilman said he recalls spending a lot of time with grandpa growing up.

Wayne Austin, along with his son Don, ran a local bottling company. As a kid, Jeff Austin said he would go into work with the elder Austins on Saturdays.

And though he was only 2 when Wayne Austin last served on council, Jeff Austin said he does remember being involved with his grandpa’s next political ambition — a run for the Legislature in 1966.

Jeff Austin said he had a “Vote for Grandpa” sweatshirt and remembers putting a campaign sign on an inner-tube out on the Mill Pond.

Wayne Austin ended up losing that race in a narrow vote to Charles “Baldy” Hansen, who had served as mayor while the elder Austin was on council.

In fact, Wayne Austin was on council long enough to work with three different mayors — Hansen, Merril Rolfson and Roger Svejkovsky.

Don Austin jokes that his father was on council long enough that he didn’t need to do any serious campaigning toward the end of his political career.

“He said, ‘If they don’t know me by now, they never will,’” Don Austin said with a laugh.

Jeff Austin doesn’t quite have that name recognition yet, though he is certainly working on it. Jeff is entering his fourth year on council in the same First Ward seat that Wayne Austin once held, and Jeff said he likely will run for re-election later this year.

“As long as I enjoy it, I plan to continue doing it,” he said. “And I do enjoy it.”

Don Austin said Wayne’s political and civic involvement rubbed off on Jeff at a young age.

“I think so,” Don Austin said. “(Jeff) got a little more of a wider picture of what’s going on.”

Some of that certainly can be attributed to Don Austin as well — though he didn’t run for council like his father, he was heavily involved with the family business, as well as with local social groups like the Elks and the forerunner to what is now the Development Corporation of Austin.

“I thought about (running for council),” Don Austin said, “but not for too long.

Now, another generation of Austins may be pondering that same thought — Jeff has four children between the ages of 17 and 27. Of the group, he said his youngest would be the most likely to get involved some day.

If any of them do ever decide to run, they very well may stumble into the opportunity like their father — Jeff Austin said he thought about being a lawyer when he was younger, not a councilman. When he did eventually run, he said it was a matter of good timing as much as anything.

And if a younger Austin takes a seat on council, they may find themselves deciding on something their father dealt with years ago.

That exact scenario played out for Jeff Austin. About a year and a half ago, he and the rest of council were dealing with an issue regarding the train at the county historical society. When he looked through the council documents, Jeff Austin saw a very familiar name who had dealt with the train decades earlier.

“There it was, right in the minutes,” the councilman said. “ ‘Wayne Austin.’ ”