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Life Story / Obituary
They say good things come in small packages, and Sharon Ann Austin was proof of that. At barely over five feet tall, she used to say, “I may be small, but I pack a mean wallop!” She was a force to be reckoned with, but inside that short body was a heart as big as Texas. She was the first to offer help if she thought someone needed it and she never turned away anyone. She made the Austin home a place of acceptance and warmth, not only for her own family but also for her kids’ friends and others that came her way. As her family grew, so did her love, and every child, grandchild, and great-grandchild knew that Sharon was always in their corner.
During the second half of the 1940’s Harlan and Edna Marr of Kalamazoo, Michigan, had their hands full with five daughters and another on the way. Sharon was born on March 22, 1947, and quickly learned that if she wanted to be heard in the midst of all those females, she’d better speak up! The Marrs may have doubted that they would ever have sons, but two boys followed Sharon and gave her the opportunity to learn about taking care of younger siblings.
Sharon was raised in Portage, Michigan, by her mother, a hard-working waitress and homemaker, and by her father, an electrician who retired early due to health concerns. She and her siblings attended Portage schools, pitched in with chores to keep their bustling household running smoothly, and took care of the family chickens. Sharon often played football with the neighbor kids, but claimed that her favorite pastime was counting every blade of grass in the yard because she was grounded all the time. When she was old enough, she earned a little money by babysitting.
As a teenager Sharon was a cheerleader, but she dropped out of school, a decision she was to rethink in later years. In 1970 she met a tall, kind young man named Randolph Austin. At 6’ 3”, Randy towered over Sharon, but they both claimed it was love at first sight. The sweethearts married in a private ceremony the following year on April 30, 1971, and spent a few days in Canada for their honeymoon until their money ran out and they had to come home. She and Randy began their life together at the farm in Mattawan and started a family right away. That old house was where they spent the next forty-two years growing their marriage. They faced life’s ups and downs together, even if that meant Sharon had to stand on a chair to dance face-to-face with Randy.
In the early years, Sharon stayed home with the kids. Later she got a job working as a nursing aide for geriatric patients and then as a home care private nurse. She loved her work and took great pride in the help and comfort she was able to give her patients and their families. Her generous, compassionate spirit also showed during her service as Den Mother of a Mattawan Cub Scout pack and many of her children’s friends called her “Mom.” The Austins enjoyed camping and spent time around Little Manistee and Luther in northern Michigan. All of them rode dirt bikes. Sharon enjoyed riding and when she and Randy got a Honda Gold Wing touring bike, she was so relaxed that she often fell asleep as Randy’s passenger.
As her children were growing up, Sharon wanted to show them the value of a good education, a conviction that led her to go back to school. Her determination to finish what she started and to be an example for her kids drove her to earn her diploma at the age of thirty-two from Paw Paw High, graduating with the class of 1979.
Sharon eventually started working with Randy and in 1983 their business in Mattawan was dubbed R & S Camper Refrigeration Service. The new name stood for Randy and Sharon and reflected their lifelong perspective of their marriage as a team, working together for a common goal and loving every minute of it. Sharon quickly learned the ins and outs of the business and soon became an integral part of daily operations. She mainly ran the front of the store and helped customers while Randy focused his energies on repairs and behind-the-scenes decision-making, but Sharon wore many hats and sometimes even helped with maintenance.
Sharon and Randy started spending winters in Punta Gorda, Florida, in 1996. Initially it was hard to put that “Closed” sign on the door, but over the years they got used to it and gradually lengthened the time they were away, eventually closing from December 1 through April 1. The warm weather was wonderful and Sharon loved working in her thirty-foot flower box in front of their home. Sharon hadn’t always had a green thumb. She learned by trial and error, and loved sharing what she knew, not just about flowers but also about life. She was able to pass much wisdom on to her loved ones while they helped her care for her flowerbeds. While in Florida, Randy and Sharon enjoyed relaxing and golfing, and generally just appreciated a break from work and winter. Sharon enjoyed her collection of teapots and hummingbirds and loved her Miller High Life, no matter where she was.
Sharon had many names that she answered to over the years. To Randy she was sweetie or honey, to her kids she was mom, but to the little ones in her life she was Nana or Grandma. It was never uncommon to hear little feet come running in the back door, yelling Nana, Nana!! Be it sleep overs with Nana, having a meal at the family table, or just sitting quietly reading a book, there was no more comfortable place than next to Nana. Hugs and kisses were always a part of a visit, and of course, Nana hardly ever said no! To her older grandchildren she went by grandma and that name was just as comforting. Visits to grandma’s house were always an exciting trip, and of course her cooking was always a hit, especially as they grew to be teenagers. Nana or grandma, take your pick, one of Sharon’s greatest joys were the little ones that adored her.
With all of her fried food specialties and her love of country western music, Sharon would’ve made a great southern cook. She learned from her mother-in-law and was privileged to have a close relationship with her. Sharon’s baked items were good and everyone looked forward to her hamburgers. She always made extra at meals and was happy to put out more plates for guests. When the holidays rolled around, Randy and Sharon’s was the place to be. She always prepared a big meal and loved having everyone home.
Sharon’s loss leaves a huge hole in the heart of her family. Perhaps the greatest compliment that could be paid to her was summed up by her family in three simple words: “She was Mom.” She made everyone feel welcome and loved and at the same time always told the truth, even if it was hard to hear. She may be gone, but she has left a legacy of love and honesty that will stay with her loved ones forever. They will always have her example of an open door and an open heart to comfort, sustain, and guide them.
Sharon had struggled with complications from diverticulitis for a few years, and later on complications with her kidneys. She died suddenly at her home on Tuesday, June 9, 2015. She is survived by her husband, Randy Austin; her children, Jerry (Sunita) Austin, Andy Austin, Tammie Hendrickson, and Curtiss Austin; sisters, Bonnie (Jim) Love, Beverly (Richard) Reist, Nancy Thompson; her brothers, Harlan (Dawn) Marr and Douglas Marr; twelve grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. Her parents, Harlan and Edna, as well as two sisters, Harlene Randolph and Alana Geno, preceded her in death.
Visit with Sharon's family and friends on Thursday, June 18, 2015 from 6-8 PM at the Life Story Funeral Homes, Betzler & Thompson - Paw Paw; 60900 M-40 Highway (657-3870). Please visit her personal web page at www.lifestorynet.com, where you can archive a favorite memory or photo of her and sign her online guestbook.