Shirley Austin was devoted to church and coffee business

Friday, March 8, 2013 | 7:11 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Shirley Austin's motto was, “It could always be worse.”

“That’s just how she looked at life,” her daughter Sue Cunningham said. “She knew that any problem could always be dealt with. It just became a family thing over the years.”

Mrs. Austin died on Thursday, March 7, 2013. She was 76.

Mrs. Austin was born on March 23, 1936 in Preston, Minn. to Louis and Cora Peterson. 

A naturally kind person, Mrs. Austin was never without a smile and something positive to say, her daughter Karen Douglas said.

“She always appreciated things and saw the good in things, ” Douglas said.

She met her husband, Thomas Austin, while he was a student at the University of Minnesota.

“We met at a dance club between the two cities where we lived,” Thomas Austin said. “She was out with the girls, I was out with the guys.”

The pair felt an instant connection, he said. Two years later, they began their 55-year marriage.

In 1970, Thomas Austin’s company transferred him to Columbia, where the couple remained.

To supplement Thomas Austin’s income, they bought a small coffee delivery business, which they renamed Austin Coffee Service. Mrs. Austin devoted herself to the business.

“My mom went door to door calling on businesses where we lived to try to get more customers,” Douglas said. “Then she’d go home in the afternoon and wait for the phone to ring.”

Soon, it wouldn't stop ringing. The Austins grew their business from a company with 13 accounts to one with more than 400.

“On the first sale that she made, my dad bought her a freezer full of ice cream,” Douglas said. “It was fun to see her succeed so quickly.”

The Austins operated their business out of a room over their garage. Mrs. Austin worked full-time at Austin Coffee Service for 25 years.

“Every customer was so important to her,” Cunningham said. “When she went to deliver coffee she’d visit with her customers and they all loved her.”

Aside from her home business, Mrs. Austin volunteered extensively at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. She sang in the choir, served in the Eucharistic Ministry, traveled to the homes of the sick to give them communion, taught classes at the CCD Sunday School and served coffee and donuts before church services.

She was also a member of Columbia Mother Singers, a group that visits schools and retirement communities.

“Music was a big part of her life and friends were a part of her life, so the Mother Singers went together with that,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham and Douglas said they saw their mother as a role model.

“I always felt that when I volunteered for my own kids, I was modeling myself after her,” Cunningham said.

Mrs. Austin is survived by her husband, Thomas E. Austin, of Columbia; son Edward Austin and his wife Kim Austin of Ballwin, son Joel Austin and his wife Sherry Austin of Fenton, daughter Karen (Austin) Douglas and her husband Brian Douglas of Wardsville, daughter Sue (Austin) Cunningham and her husband Brad Cunningham of Columbia, and sister Laurice (Peterson) Kneeskern of Preston, Minn.; and grandchildren Matthew Austin and Cori Austin of of Ballwin, Tara Austen and Ashley Austin of Fenton, Scott Douglas, Kevin Douglas and Mary Douglas of Wardsville, and Austin Cunningham and Andrew Cunningham of Columbia.

Her sister, Maxine Jones of Cucamonga, Calif., died earlier.

Visitation will begin at 9 a.m. on Monday, March 11 at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, 903 Bernadette Drive. 

Services will be held at 10 a.m. and officiated by Monsignor Flanagan.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials may be made to the Father Tolton Catholic High School Fund at 3351 East Gans Road, Columbia, Mo, 65201.

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