Distinguished Alumni share their stories

Published 10:09 am Friday, October 10, 2014

Austin’s Distinguished Alumni, Wendell King and Marlou Garbisch Johnston.  Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Austin’s Distinguished Alumni, Wendell King and Marlou Garbisch Johnston.
Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Two Austin High School graduates came home Thursday to share their stories of success during a homecoming assembly.

“Keeping your life simple gives you the gift of owning your own time. Simplicity is the new sophistication,” said Wendell King, one of the Distinguished Alumni who spoke to Austin High School students Thursday morning.

Wendell King and Marlou Garbisch Johnston were chosen as the two honored Austin graduates for this year’s homecoming, and the two shared stories from their life and gave advice to the AHS students. To educators, it’s a way to show how AHS can be a springboard for success.

Email newsletter signup

“Austin High School has established a wonderful tradition of having it’s graduates make a positive impact on their work and service to others,” Principal Katie Baskin said as she introduced the two graduates. “All of our previous recipients, including the two we will honor today, have taken the education they received at Austin High School and used it as an opportunity to not only become successful in their chosen area of interest, but to also make this world a better place.”

To become a distinguished alumni at AHS, a person must have graduated at least ten years ago, contributed to society in an exemplary manor, and succeeded in either business, the arts, a profession, humanitarian efforts, or community service.

King, who graduated from Austin in 1958, is currently the CEO of King Consulting, was a top executive at Medtronic and holds more than 30 medical-device patents. He was chairman and CEO of Angeion Corp. and Gateway Alliance following his time with Medtronic, where he served as director of research and development, corporate vice president, and president of Medtronic in Puerto Rico.

His message for students focused on simplicity and time.

“When I was asked to do this talk, I thought about, what do I know now that I wish I had known then?” King said at the beginning of his speech. “The answer came quickly: I wish someone had told me how valuable the time of my life is.”

At one point in his career, King said, he was earning half a million dollars a year, owned a nice home in the most expensive part of the town he lived in, had a garage filled with cars, and owned a cabin on a lake. Yet, King was miserable.

“I worked days, nights, weekends, I had no free time for myself. I had lost control of my life,” King said.

Now, he and his wife live in a small cabin on a lake in northern Minnesota, grow most of their own food. And, as he said in his speech, he is happy.

“I do what I choose to do, I’m engaged in the world and I experience the pain and the pleasure of life, and I’m happy at last,” King said. “Your time is your most valuable possession, and how you choose to use it is the most important decision you will make in your life.”

King emphasized that material things did not make him happy, but it was the experiences he had and the relationships he built that made him ultimately happy with life. His speech ended by telling students to remember that they have a choice in their future.

“You always have options, and you can do anything you choose to do,” he said.

The second distinguished alumni, Johnston, graduated from Austin in 1960.

“My advice: Have fun in life,” Johnston said during her speech.

Johnston, an accomplished violist of Bourbonnais, Illinois, is a member of the Music of the Baroque in Chicago and a freelance musician in recording studios. She has been a concert master and soloist with Chicago Civic Orchestra, a member of the Grand Park Orchestra and Lyric Opera Orchestra, and a frequent player in the Chicago Symphony. She also co-founded a nonprofit corporation called Trio Chicago and Friend, which is a music ensemble that takes annual tours to concerts sponsored by the U.S. Embassies in third-world countries.

“I’ve been on the stage many times as a violinist, soloist with the orchestra and an orchestra member,” Johnston said.

Johnston recalled traveling to different countries as part of music groups and not always getting a friendly welcome. She recalled having an armed guard in Turkey, and she recalled visiting Vietnam and Korea during times when the United States was at war with them, trying to promote American goodwill. Yet she recalled that nothing bad ever happened.

“I think we did a lot of good,” Johnston said. “It’s kind of hard to hate a musician.”

She recalled working with local musicians in the different countries, and was excited to invite them onstage to play the American tunes with their local instruments, some of which she had never seen before.

“The fun part really is working with the local musicians,” she said.

She advised students to travel, but not only as a sightseer.

“It’s really a wonderful experience, not just to travel as a tourist, but to travel to these countries and give something,” Johnston said. “In a sense we’re like musical missionaries.”

She added, “My advice would be, go and do some project where you’re giving something. When you travel to other countries, don’t just be a tourist, be somebody that gives back.”