There’s a saying, “Children learn what they live.” We can add to that by noting that those children also grow up to be adults who continue doing what they lived as children. Take Mike and Susan Austin, for instance.

Chehalis Foundation
Nikki Ames, Librarian at Orin Smith Elementary, with Susan Austin. The Austins provided $250 per school to add books to their libraries. Photo credit: Mike Austin

Sue grew up with a family history of community service. Her father was a local businessman and was always engaged in helping others. Mike was the same way. His parents were involved in the local grange, the 4th of July parade and made sure all the kids were busy in 4-H and FFA.

Was that shared history of service to the community something that drew Mike and Sue to each other? Maybe so, because once they met and married and moved back to Chehalis from Port Angeles, where Mike served in the Coast Guard, they jumped in with both feet. The couple got involved with the Jaycees and also worked on changing the form of city government in Chehalis from one of “Commissioner” to “Council.” “We won state and national awards on that,” smiles Mike, who also served on the first new city council in 1975.

So, when the Chehalis Foundation began, Mike and Sue were right there, ready to help. Mike served as President for seven years, and when asked if the Foundation has progressed the way he envisioned, he laughed. “It’s actually a lot bigger than I envisioned.” He thanks members of the community who have recognized what Chehalis should be and “put their money where their mouth is.”

“The Chehalis Foundation is proud to partner with Mike and Sue Austin. They embody the qualities we look for in a community partnership by investing in Lewis County and giving back to make this a better place to work and live,” says Executive Director with the Chehalis Foundation, Jenny Collins.

Chehalis Foundation
Mike and Sue Austin serve the community in many ways, such as donating this statue in front of the Spray Park in Chehalis. Photo credit: Nancy Keaton

Lintott/Alexander Park was their first project with the Foundation. “We were out there with our gloves on, pulling weeds,” smiles Sue. The pair also led the way with the Spray Park and Penny Playground. One of their fondest memories is when they presented the project at schools for fundraising. Sporting a superhero theme, Sue dressed up with a cape and a gold mask and was known as “Super Sue” while Mike thrilled the kids as “Mighty Mike” in his Batman suit. Even more fun was that the principal and the teachers also dressed up as various superheroes. The Austin’s twin grandchildren performed a magic show after the presentation, which the kids, especially the younger ones, really loved. Fundraising was very successful. “The K-2 kids did more than the other three schools together,” they beam.

The Austins aren’t slowing down any time soon. The next Foundation project they will be helping with is repairing the W.F. West baseball field. “It will have an artificial turf infield and drainage. I don’t think people realize how expensive drainage is,” Mike says, going on to explain, “It cost $800,000 for the drainage at Recreation Park.”

In the meantime, they’ll continue their other ongoing work. One such project is a little book-lending library at Penny Playground. The Austins refill it as needed, and community members also donate books.

Chehalis Foundation
The Austins donated the little lending library by Penny Playground to encourage parents to sit and read with their children. Photo credit: Nancy Keaton

Another is their 30-year project of soliciting school supplies. “We’re not trying to provide for every child,” says Sue, “Just those who are experiencing homelessness or simply need a hand up.”

The school supply project is now year-round. Starting on a small scale, it increased to 8,000 items last year. They have added shoes, coats, socks, gloves, and hats to their ask list. “We’ve had so many wonderful donations. One lady gave us close to 70 coats,” marvels Sue.

As soon as the Austins post on the Facebook page (School Supplies for Students) about needed supplies, family, friends and community members step right up. This year they have requested water bottles since water fountains in schools have been shut down. “One woman brought us 30 water bottles,” Sue says in amazement.

A change that has occurred this past year is the need for antibacterial supplies, so gallon jugs for refills, individual bottles for each teacher to have at their desk, and wipes have been purchased.

Many community members also provide financial support, and with the high need, Mike and Sue are basically shopping every day of the summer.

Chehalis Foundation
Sue and Mike Austin have been organizing a school supply drive for 30 years. Photo courtesy: Mike Austin

To help support their work, follow the Facebook group or drop off donations at Adolphsen Real Estate or Lewis County Title. Monetary donations can be sent directly to the Austins (email for more specifics at susanmaustin@excite.com) or the Chehalis Foundation, a 501c3, so donations are tax-deductible.

Sue summarizes how she and Mike feel, “We can’t say enough about our community. It has been so supportive. We’ve got the wonderful library that was a community effort, the spray park, the renovation of the pool itself, Penny Playground and the four softball fields that we now have. People are just so giving, and we just so appreciate living in a community where people want to make things better, and they do make things happen.”

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