Around here the name “Augie” is synonymous with baseball, basketball and Pepsi.
Robert Austin has been known by the nickname of Augie for years. He is also known as someone who puts Pepsi products on the shelves of local stores, and who loves the sports of basketball and baseball, and perhaps even more so, enjoys sharing that love with others.
“He’s a father figure to people who need him. He’s always been there. He makes you want to follow in his footsteps. He has a good heart,” his son Greg said.
Today, the many people who have watched him play and coach are organizing a benefit for him.
In early December, Austin was diagnosed with a stage IV cancerous brain tumor.
“He was kind of slurring his speech. He had a headache for a good week,” Greg Austin said of what lead to his father’s trip to Riverside Medical Center where he had a CT scan.
The CT scan was followed by an MRI and the diagnosis.
Surgery was quickly scheduled, with doctors removing what they were comfortable taking out. Austin has been undergoing radiation and oral chemotherapy treatment in the Fox Valley.
“Nurses are telling him he’s doing very well from what they’ve seen,” his son said. “He’s reacting well to the treatment and showing signs of improvement. Every day is the next step.”
The 59-year-old Austin is not working, and while he has health insurance, the treatment he is receiving is aggressive and expensive, and has exceeded what insurance is willing to pay.
Friends of Austin are planning a Feb. 19 benefit to help with those costs.
“It was just something because they have bills piling up, and they’re not nearly to the end of it yet. People wanted to help,” Greg Austin said.
Ron Weber has known Augie since they were both high school students in Milwaukee.
“In my opinion, if there’s anybody in Waupaca that people are going to come together for, it’s a guy like Augie. He’s well-respected – a friend to everybody. I think people will come together and really help,” he said.
Weber, who retired a few years ago as a teacher at Waupaca High School, says that he and Austin competed against each other in both basketball and baseball.
“He went to Milwaukee Riverside, and I went to Milwaukee Marshall,” said Weber, who is Waupaca High School’s varsity basketball coach.
Through the years, Austin often reminded Weber of the time that he struck him out, with Weber taking his bat to the ground in frustration, breaking it.
After high school, they played basketball on the same team at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
There, they became friends, and played intramural football together on a team called “Augie’s Doggies.”
They went their separate ways after Austin moved to Waupaca, where he lived with and cared for his grandparents.
The paths of Weber and Austin crossed again after Weber began teaching in Waupaca.
After a short time, Austin joined the coaching staff at Waupaca High School, becoming the freshmen boys basketball coach.
“He has an excellent basketball mind,” Weber said. “He knows and loves the game.”
Austin was also a traveling basketball coach.
“His son Wes and my son Nolan were in the same grade,” Weber said. “The kids just loved Augie. Nolan really bonded with him.”
When Austin’s commitments at work meant he could not consistently coach, he became a volunteer assistant with the varsity program, often seen sitting next to Weber on the bench.
“He’s been so helpful. Even the years when he was not coaching, he was helpful with running our tourneys and summer league,” Weber said. “He’s just been really great for our program, and the kids love him. A lot of kids played baseball and basketball with him. He coached both. He’s been great for the youth of Waupaca.”
Austin’s son Greg said that as a coach, his father was there with him and his brother Wes to enjoy the sport while also teaching them.
Lee Thompson is the general manger of the Waupaca Lakemen and first got to know Augie when he was old enough to play on the Lakemen’s team.
“He helps everybody,” Thompson said of Austin. “He was an excellent ballplayer and is an excellent person. He’s president of the Waupaca Lakemen and highly involved. He’s been very active and very good, and we expect him to keep on.”
The Lakemen have already donated $1,000 to the Augie Austin Benefit fund, and Thompson says they will do whatever they can to help him.
Greg Austin said his father has been spending a lot of time looking at the yearbooks from when he and his brother Wes were in high school, jotting down the names of their friends and notes about them.
“When Dad gets overwhelmed, he will mix up words,” he said. “He’s just trying to remember so many people and faces.”
His father’s plans for retirement include being a stay-at-home grandpa to Greg’s two young children.
Augie’s mother, Vi Austin, says her son has always been a good person. “He acts like anybody’s friend. He would do for anybody,” she said.