by Dennis Dalman
Everyone who knew John Augustin has a fun story to tell about him – or two or three. Or more.
Augustin, a beloved Sartell teacher, died Nov. 19 at the age of 78. His funeral took place Dec. 4 at his long-time church, St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud, and many attendees, even the officiating priest, shared their fun “John stories.”
The bouquets of praise for Augustin keep blooming.
From one of his students, Andrea Hasan:
“Mr. Augustin was my sixth-grade teacher. Thank you for being such a fun part of my childhood! You were a great teacher and a wonderful person. You touched so many lives over the years. You will be remembered fondly. Rest in Peace.”
From former teaching colleague, Jan Sorell:
“From 1967 to 1970, John and I both taught at the old Sartell elementary school in the building that now houses the district office. I taught fourth grade; John taught sixth grade. He enjoyed the kids so much and had such fun with them. He was a really good teacher who made learning fun. Over the years, our paths crossed many times, and each time was a delight.”
From another student, Amanda McCarty: “Mr. Augustin was an amazing teacher and coach. He always encouraged us to explore new topics and enjoy learning. I will always have a fondness for rats, thanks to him having them as classroom pets.”
In recent years, Augustin suffered many health setbacks and moved to the Country Manor nursing home in Sartell. Sadly, just a few months ago, he lost his twin brother, David. His only living relatives are some cousins, but he is survived by many, many friends.
Augustin was not only a teacher. He was a stage actor, mainly in productions of the St. Cloud-based “GREAT Theater” organization; an impersonator of historical legends; a hard-to-beat contestant in games of Trivial Pursuit; a Knowledge Bowl coach; a Spelling Bee judge; a member of the Knights of Columbus; an avid player and teacher of cribbage, and an intrepid volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Whitney Senior Center and the Kiwanis club.
Many in the greater St. Cloud area might well remember Augustin for his frequent one-man performances at various venues in which, via dramatic monologues, he would “channel” local history legends, such as Father Xavier Pierz and Samuel Pandolfo.
Fr. Pierz was a Slovenian immigrant, who became an influential and much-loved missionary to Native American tribes in the central Minnesota area in the 100s. He is known as the “Father of the Catholic Diocese of St. Cloud.”
Pandolfo, born in Mississippi, founded the Pan Motor Co. in west St. Cloud in the early years of the 20th Century. The company caused international admiration by producing more than 700 top-quality “Pan” model cars in its brief heyday.
Besides being a history sleuth, Augustin was also a knowledgeable, passionate movie buff and something of an expert on the history of the annual Academy Awards’ “Oscar” ceremonies.
Born and raised in Springfield, Augustin moved with his family (parents Sylvester and Eleanor) to St. Cloud in 1958 and graduated from Cathedral High School in 1961 after which he pursued his teaching career and his multitude of other intellectual, cultural and community pursuits.
Laura Hood, former aging-services director for St. Cloud’s Whitney Senior Center, knew and admired Augustin for many years.
“That’s where I met him,” said Hood, who is now employed as director of social services for Country Manor in Sartell. “He was a gentleman so invested in the community and active in so many organizations. He had a passion for the arts and performance and loved to intertwine history with performance.”
At Whitney Center, Augustin began a weekly summer foreign-film festival for senior visitors to Whitney. He chose the movies (old classics and contemporary ones), did enormous amounts of research on them and showed the movies. After each one, viewers would discuss what they’d just seen/experienced, and Augustin would lead the discussions, pointing out interesting fun facts and details about the movie, its director, actors and production.
“He did such a great job of exposing us to movie talents from around the globe,” said Hood, adding that his movie-appreciation was just one example of how Augustin could make education and cultural appreciation so interesting and often entertaining.
“We called him our very own film critic,” Hood said.
And every year he would host a “Red-Carpet Oscar Party” at Whitney during which he would discuss the Academy Award nominees for that particular year.
“John made education so much fun for children and so many others in the community,” she said. “He was one of the most enthusiastic, optimistic people I’ve ever met. He loved his family and his many friends so much.”
Her praise continued:
“He had that chuckle, those twinkling blue eyes. He was like a packaged party – all that magic dust, a way of making everybody happy. His cup wasn’t just full; it was overflowing. And he always was determined to go on, to put one foot in front of the other, even when he was ailing.”
His “spark” of inspiration will remain alive in so many people, Hood said.
“People like John remind us of how to find joy in these tough times,” she explained. “I call it the Augustin challenge – that legacy, of love, of gratitude. We should ask ourselves: How can we be more like that?”
Sandra Cordie of Sartell also sang praises for Augustin, whom she valued for years for his work in education when Cordie, now retired, was director of educational programs for Resource Training & Solutions, based in Sartell.
“John was involved in Knowledge Bowl for well over 30 years,” she said. “He loved it and working with the kids.”
One time, she recalled, Augustin took some teams on a school bus to a meet in Cold Spring. After the meet, he became so enraptured in talking to people, the bus driver forgot about him and the bus, filled with students, went back to Sartell without Augustin. Oops! It probably was funny, though not to the principal, Cordie said, and then it happened a second time in the same season.
Augustin also loved the “Young Authors Young Artists” student conferences.
“I always chose a theme for them,” Cordie said, “and John loved to put on costumes to fit the themes – a pirate, a cowboy, Paul Bunyan, a voyageur. Every year he looked forward to greeting the arriving buses with kids dressed as a character.”
Augustin also loved reading, the Oscars, Trivial Pursuit, deviled eggs and “just being with people,” she said.
“He was ever the optimist, and I consider him a wonderful friend. The world lost a good one.”