Juanita Jean McFarlin Austin, mother, teacher and longtime Denton resident, died in Seattle, Wash. on May 12, 2013 from complications of a stroke. She was 87.
A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, July 6, at Cole Chapel, First United Methodist Church, 201 S Locust St., Denton.
Born in Royse City on July 24, 1925 to John and Jessie McFarlin, Jean grew up in East Texas, where her dad was in the lumber business. A tree-climbing child, she ascended to the top ranks of her 1942 Kilgore High class and the state shorthand championship, then worked with the Navy's V-5 pilot-training program while attending Kilgore Junior College.
In 1944, Jean headed to the University of Texas. En route to an English degree, she lived in the old Shangri-la co-op, became a campus beauty-pageant contestant and worked, first at the Texas Railroad Commission; then at the state Senate, where she met Robert Austin, fresh off destroyer duty in the Pacific. Though she later wrote that their first date "had not worked out too well," Jean wed the young salt in 1950 and drove off to the future in a Ford convertible.
Despite the post-war boom, maintaining a ranch-style house in suburban Dallas and feeding four kids on one income was tough. But Jean, a true child of the depression, could not only make a tasty "grilled" cheese sandwich with nothing but white bread, a piece of Velveeta, a steam iron and leftover aluminum foil, but also seemingly make a dollar out of 15 cents.
Every ounce of her wit and will were tested when the marriage ended in divorce. Facing an uncertain future in an uncongenial city, she decided to get the hell out of Las Vegas, where she'd reluctantly followed her husband's legal career, and start a new life in her old home state.
With no career experience beyond some secretarial work, a few borrowed dollars and what she could stuff into a U-Haul trailer, Jean, her three teens and two-year-old son fled the desert, destination Denton. She found work at Texas Woman's University, won a graduate-school fellowship, a master's degree in education and in 1969 began teaching.
Jean proved herself a natural in Woodrow Wilson Elementary School's second- and third-grade classrooms. Her unit on Texas history, for example, ended with an annual pioneer dinner featuring venison and butter churned by pupils.
Jean taught for 22 years, but her connection to young people transcended classrooms. The house overflowed with kids who found Jean as interesting as her children, and the kitchen table was the center of a non-stop teen-age salon that ran on hot tea, rock and roll and conversation. When the stereo and shenanigans were too uproarious, she escaped to school with the baby to grade papers. Jean also designed, blueprinted and supervised construction of her own house.
In retirement, there were trips to Europe and both coasts, her granddaughter's Girl Scout troop to lead, friends and relatives to visit. Jean also wielded a hammer on Habitat for Humanity housing, worked with Heifer International and volunteered at a local preschool, which allowed her to once more help children.
A devout Christian, only age, hearing loss and the realization that she was probably beyond help if she hadn't been saved by age 84 ended her attendance at Denton's First Methodist Church.
A flood finally drove Jean from her beloved home near the TWU campus. She found a refuge at Good Samaritan Senior Village, and then, in the summer of 2011, left Denton, 45 years after she and her family first motored down University Drive. Jean spent her final days in sight of the Puget Sound, cared for by good people at Seattle's Cambridge Family Home, just blocks from her beloved daughter's house. In the end, Jean's memory failed her, but the recollection of her friendship, love and laughter remain. Jean was preceded in death by her parents, her brother, Stan; and her second son, Thomas Robert Austin. She is survived by her son, John Austin, his wife Vickie and their daughter, Hayley; daughter, Mary Kay Austin and her husband, Bob Kleckner; son Michael Austin, his wife, Ana Realpe, and their son, Felipe; sisters Mary Barnett, Nancy Woodson, Anne Thomas and her husband, Clyde; her brother, Bill McFarlin and his wife Nonia; grandsons Samuel Robert Austin and Spencer McFarlin Austin; and numerous nieces and nephews.