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Eugene M. Austin

Eugene Munger Austin (January 26, 1910 – June 16, 1962) was the second president of Colby Junior College. During his seven years as president, Austin led the college in a major building development program. Under his direction more than $1,750,000 was raised for the construction of Baird Infirmary (1956), Sawyer Fine Arts Center (1959), and the Reichhold Science Center (1962). The college also broke ground in June of 1962 for the construction of a new physical education center (HESS now Mercer).


Early Life

Austin was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. His childhood was spent in Baptist parsonages in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon before a move to Lansing, Michigan, where he spent his high school years; it was in Lansing that he met Genevieve Bert Hunt, who later became his wife.

Austin was a student of Colgate University, majoring in German language and literature. He was a member of its Glee Club for three years, an associate editor of the undergraduate literary journal and a frequent contributor to its columns. Additionally, he was a member of the Kappa Delta Rho social fraternity, Mu Pi Delta honorary musical fraternity, and also served as university cheerleader.

During his junior year, he transferred from Colgate to Georgetown University when his father became the vice-president of the latter. Here, he graduated magna cum laude in June 1930. Afterwards, he spent six months teaching at a school in a remote section of the Kentucky Mountains.


Life at Colby Junior College

The beginning of Austin’s career at Colby Junior College began with a ten year plan.

Construction of Sawyer Center
One of the first goals of the Ten Year plan was to construct a Fine Arts Center named for former president, Herbert Leslie Sawyer. After construction was approved by the board of trustees, approximately $1,500,000 dollars was raised. In August 1959, the new Sawyer Center opened with a concert by duo-pianists, Lubuschutz and Nemenov.

College Scholarships Service
As one of his first acts in 1955, Austin approved subscribing to the College Scholarship Service in Princeton, N.J., making Colby Junior College one of the first junior colleges in the country to be included. This subscription continues to present day.

Changes for Faculty
In March 1957, the faculty’s sabbatical leave system which was created by former President Sawyer in 1948, was revised and made more flexible.

Austin also proposed the establishment of faculty tenure. Two years later, in March 1959, after exhaustive discussion by faculty and the board of trustees, tenure was adopted and twenty-seven members of the current faculty were granted tenure in its initial year.

Austin was also determined to increase the salaries of faculty and staff at CJC so that salaries would coincide with the national cost of living and to show appreciation to those who had served the college for long periods of time.

Preservation of Colby’s Religious Background
Because of his own background and experience, Austin wanted to preserve and promote religious practice at Colby Junior College. Chapel services took place twice a week on Mondays and Wednesday at ten o’clock; the YWCA was renamed “The Christian Association;” and the Colbytown Camp program was continued and expanded.

In 1960, Austin appointed the first official “Chaplain of the College” – a graduate of the Yale Divinity School, Rev. John “Jack” Jensen.


Personal Life

Austin and his wife were noted for their hospitality towards students – as former President Sawyer explains in Our First Two Presidents, “their front door was always open, and the basement playroom was available for student meetings” (27).

Outside of his home, Austin often interacted with CJC students as well. “When vacations began, he was up early to see the buses depart; on induction day in the spring he was always present; in the new student center he was often found. He liked students and he had their friendship…” (27). On top of this, he made frequent visits to many of the CJC clubs meetings and events.

Austin and his wife owned land on the shore of Herrick Cove on Lake Sunapee. Here, they spent many of their spring, summer, and fall breaks. Additionally, Austin took pleasure in walking and went on long hikes through the countryside around New London. In 1951, Austin and his family spent five weeks in southern England, much of it on a walking trip of the Wye River Valley on the Welsh border.

Austin and his wife were also faithful members of the New London Baptist Church and, in the early years of his presidency, Austin organized a Men’s Chorus for those New Londoners who liked to sing.



Austin began to feel intense cold and fatigue and he was diagnosed with acute leukemia.

On Saturday, May 12, 1962, Austin wrote in his journal:

“Today is Commencement Day. It is cool, the sky is cloudless, and it must be perfect on New London Hill. I have talked with Eleanor Dodd and Duane Squires this morning… As I write, the crowd is gathering in the tent, the faculty in the library, and the platform group in my office…

“It’s all one, and I am glad to have had a part in it. If memories get confused and images of people fade, what matter? Just so young people come always to this place to find themselves, see a larger world and get some things to hold to; so long as teachers find here a good place to live and teach; so long as classes meet and bridges of understanding are thrown across the chasms of fear and ignorance, – this is enough. Let it be a place where people strive for wisdom, love and beauty.”

Austin was taken to Mary Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover for treatment and died on June 16, 1962.



The Eugene M. Austin Scholarship

After Austin’s death, a memorial fund, The Eugene M. Austin Scholarship, was established for merit scholarships in the creative arts.

The nature of the memorial was suggested by Austin himself in a letter to Charles W. Nichols, the founder of the Adelaide Batterman Nichols Scholarships for students demonstrating outstanding ability in the musical performing arts:

“The only thing that bothers me now is that I need the same kind of tangible goal to place before students in other creative arts. I wish we had two scholarships in the graphic arts, two in the theatre arts, and one in creative writing. The success of this experiment thus far in music makes me want desperately to spread the base. I am so grateful to you for your support in getting us on this track.”



  • Circa 1930 – While Austin and his wife, Genevieve, were driving to Michigan, two cars crashed right in front of theirs. Genevieve wrote in her Memoir that a “sizable piece of glass” flew into the back window of their car, landing only a few inches away from their nine month old son Jack.
  • Circa 1930 – Austin visited the University of Pennsylvania library. Upon arriving, he set his half-finished thesis on a table. After checking out some books, he returned to the table to find his thesis gone.
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