W.J. Austin was Winn educator

By Murphy J. Barr
Journal Historian

William Joseph Austin was born August 22, 1898 at Hoods Mill near Chatham in Jackson Parish, Louisiana. His parents were J.M. and Mary Elizabeth Hearn Austin. He was the second child of a family of fourteen children.

The family lived on a small farm and made their living by farming. After a few years, they moved to a larger farm near Dodson in Winn Parish. In addition to farming, his father worked at outside jobs, as did his children. One of these jobs was logging timber, cutting logs and selling them to nearby sawmills. Another was hewing crossties for the railroad. In those days farmers cleared the land for cultivation, using crosscut saws and axes, which was not easy work.

The Austin farm was located about two miles east of Dodson, as by this time the family had grown to nine children. William J. had spent a few years in elementary school but due to sickness of his parents he had to drop out of school in the fourth grade and take on the responsibility of making a living for the family. After seven years he returned to school and finished high school in three years.

During those years Dodson had a good athletic program in addition to good academics. The football team won most of their games, and W.J. Austin was a member of the team. He graduated from Dodson High School in 1922, in a class of eight men and four women.

A number of years later in the Dodson High school graduating class of 1937, five members of the W.J. Austin family, including one brother and four sisters, all graduated together, which set a record for the school.

After high school, W.J. entered college and graduated in 1926 after three years of study. In 1926 he began teaching at Ansley High School un Jackson Parish. He continued teaching and after going to school during summertime received the Master's Degree from LSU in 1936.

After two years of classroom teaching, William J. Austin was married to Lois Clayton in 1927. From this marriage came three children. Carolyn Austin was married to Donald Humphries; Horace James married Flora Jean Linder; and Lois married Omer Roberts. This entire family, including parents, three children, and nine

grandchildren are all university graduates.

W.J. Austin was employed as principal of Elton High School in Jefferson Davis Parish, where he served before becoming principal of Weston High School in Jackson Parish. Later he was employed as a classroom teacher at Winnfield High School, from where he retired after 38 years as an educator. While teaching he was appointed by the Louisiana Superintendent of Education to help write the Tenure  and Retirement Law for the State of Louisiana.

William J. and his wife Lois believed in the Biblical admonition that if you brought up a child in the way he should go, he would not depart from it. He joined the Methodist Church at age seven years, and began his active prayer life in which he continued during the remainder of his life.

In 1942, the Austin family moved to Winnfield, where he became active in a variety of community services. He worked in establishment of the Winnfield Recreation Center, Winn Parish Fair, passage of a stock law in Ward 7, establishment of the Ward 7 rural water system, and collected information and printed 3,000 copies of a brochure on the natural beauty of Winn Parish.

The Dogwood Trail, located on 100 acres off Highway 84 in the Kisatchie National Forest, was established by the Winn Parish chapter of AARP, under W.J. Austin's leadership. A nature trail in the park area contains dogwood, wild plum, grancy greybeard, wild honeysuckle, azaleas, and day lilies. The Forest Service has identified 44 species of trees on the nature trail.

W.J. owned a farm and maintained a recreation with two fishing ponds open free to the public.

In 1981, W.J. Austin was named Citizen of the Year by the Winn Chamber of Commerce, and was presented a plaque by Governor Dave Treen.