Today is the centennial of the birth of my father-in-law, Austin Edward Lutz. His father worked for Booker & Kinnaird, a small insurance company in Louisville; while his middle name came from his paternal grandfather, Austin was Mr. Kinnaird’s first name. An only child, he grew up on the west side of Louisville. He graduated from Manual High School in 35, right in the heart of the Great Depression. Next came a year of business school, and afterward he landed a sales position at Booker & Kinnaird.
Austin was drafted into the Army in 42. He was tall–6′ 4”–and his long, narrow feet (12.5 AA) may well have kept him out of the infantry; while they waited for shoes that fit to come in, he received training as a clerk and was ultimately assigned to the Office of the Registrar for the 300th General Hospital. This unit was initially stationed in North Africa but soon established their base of operations in Naples, where they remained through the end of the war.
He went back to B & K upon his return from Italy. His father died within a couple of years, and he and his mother bought a house in St. Matthews and began attending Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church. In the mid-50s, a square dance group formed at the church (they called themselves the Harvey Bees), and one night he invited the daughter of one of his mother’s friends to accompany him to a Bees’ function. Within a year or so, on December 27, 1958, Austin and Kathryn “Kay” Louise Ellis were wed (they would later joke that one reason for their union was the square dance group’s rule that only married couples could be members). They lived in New Albany, IN, next door to Kay’s mother, while his mother stayed in St. Matthews. Eventually his church membership moved to Central Christian in New Albany, Kay’s longtime congregation.
About three years later Austin and Kay received unexpected news of impending parenthood (they were both in their 40s). It became doubly surprisingly when, just several weeks before the due date, they learned there would be twins! As Martha and Ruth grew up, Booker & Kinnaird was sold and re-sold; first they morphed into NTVL, then later Alexander & Alexander. Austin’s work turned into an office job in one of the skyscrapers downtown. He didn’t like as well–he’d have rather been out and about in the city, talking with clients and would-be clients. He partially retired upon turning 65 and finished with A & A completely around the age of 70.
His primary hobby in later years was cross-stitch. We have many of his pieces on our walls, and additional ones emerge each Christmas. Here is a sample.
One reason he found cross-stitch so appealing was that it gave him the opportunity to express his desire for precision and imposing order. This was also manifested in his ability to fill suitcases and boxes with zero (perhaps even negative?) wasted space. Martha says he had “the packing gene”–I’m grateful she inherited it from him. He kept a daily diary for decades and maintained meticulous records over many years as Treasurer for Central Christian. He did extensive research on genealogy and was happy to track down records of many an indirect ancestor or research the family history of a cousin’s spouse.
In the early 80s, he and a few of his 300th GH buddies decided they wanted to start holding reunions. Southern Indiana was reasonably central, so Austin wound up serving as chief organizer. This included both planning the event and updating information in the “blue book” that was distributed at each reunion to attendees (as you might suspect, he was extremely well-suited for these tasks). He methodically found ways to reach out to many folks in the 300th he hadn’t known during the war, including the medical staff. The reunions occurred every other year on the first weekend of June; at their peak, around seventy-five former members would gather at what’s now the Clarion Hotel in Clarksville. Numerous new friendships formed not only among those who had served, but also spouses and children.
I came on the scene in 95. Martha and I started dating in early February and we were serious enough to warrant introductions to each other’s parents by that Easter. After it was clear that I would become his son-in-law, he and Kay insisted that we be on a first-name basis. Despite not seeing eye-to-eye with me on music (he was strictly big band and classical), Austin was incredibly welcoming and warm to me. My favorite expression of his was, “Oh, brother!” spoken in an incredulous tone with a roll of his eyes, often in reaction to the news of the day on television or some tale of Kay’s regarding an encounter with various people she knew. A close second was “Thank Fortune!”
The following years brought many joyous occasions: Austin’s 80th birthday gala included a dinner attended by friends from various phases of his life; he and Kay held a 45th anniversary reception at their home; in late 2000 he became Gramps.
In June 02, the 300th GH held their final reunion. Attendance had been dwindling as folks continued to age and die, and those remaining agreed it was time to stop. At the closing session, Austin was recognized for his years of dedication as a driving force behind the gatherings. The following weekend, the family convened in Black Mountain, NC, for Martha and Ruth’s 40th birthday. We celebrated with dinner at the Red Rocker Inn.
While in NC, Austin and Kay’s car acted up, and I had to retrieve Austin from where it was being serviced. He mentioned to me on that ride back to the hotel that he hadn’t been feeling well for a while–how long, I don’t know, but I assume at least a few weeks. When they got back to IN, visits to doctors began. Eventually they discovered pancreatic cancer, the same illness that killed his father. We celebrated his 85th birthday in a nursing facility. He passed away on December 7th in the hospital. He had enjoyed remarkable health throughout his life until those final six months. What turned out to be his final cross-stitch project–a beautiful Christmas tree skirt for us–hadn’t quite gotten finished; Kay completed it the following year.
I’m grateful for the seven-and-a-half years I knew Austin. He was a kind and loving man, and I’m sorry that Ben wasn’t given the opportunity to have any real memories of him. I know his daughters still miss him terribly. It’s an honor to be able to convey a little of his story.