Obituary of Donald Auster
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Donald (Don) Auster, 99, of Canton, New York, who lived a full and beautiful life, died peacefully at home on December 6, 2021, surrounded by loved ones. Don was born in Port Chester, New York, the son of Sophie (Perkins) Auster and Charles Auster. He was predeceased by his brother, Mortimer. Don is survived by his wife, Nancy, with whom he shared 75 marvelous years of marriage. Don graduated from Port Chester High School and as a young man worked in several factories, including the Fuller Brush factory where he and his friend were once reprimanded for working too fast at piecework. During World War II, he volunteered for the U.S. Army and found himself on a ship headed to North Africa. He and a number of other soldiers were marched off the ship in a torrential rainstorm in the middle of the night, and much to his surprise, he woke up the next morning to Bermuda’s turquoise seas. He would spend his next three years in Bermuda serving as a medic, an experience that led to a lifelong interest in medicine. When Don returned home, he learned of the GI bill for veterans, and then used it to earn his Bachelor’s degree at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Unfortunately, he contracted a mild case of tuberculosis while in Bermuda and was treated at Summit Park Sanatorium in Pomona, New York, in the foothills of the Catskills, in the last half of 1948. By then, he had met Nancy, the love of his life, and was a graduate student at Columbia University, where he completed his Master’s degree in Sociology. He and Nancy then moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where he earned his PhD in Sociology at Indiana University. Don and his wife, Nancy, along with their daughters, Carol and Ellen, moved to Canton in 1957 when Don joined the St. Lawrence University faculty. He was hired as a sociology professor, a position from which he retired in 1987 after 30 years of service. Don and Nancy have lived in Canton for over 60 years, in the early years on Maple Street and then since 1966, on Craig Drive. During his three decades as a member of the St. Lawrence University faculty, Don was the author of more than thirty published articles and scholarly papers in Sociology. His early study of newspaper comic strips, focusing on “Little Orphan Annie” as a form of propaganda, was published in Sociology of the Decade, a collection its editors called “the most innovative research studies of the 1950-1960 period.” In addition, The American Petroleum Institute provided a grant for his research on the effects of industrial films on attitudes towards business. His study, “Men in Nursing,” 1970, was supported by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Public Health Service, and in 1981, his research on male nurses won the Piskor Faculty Research Award. He was an innovative teacher and early supporter of gender equality. He pioneered the development of courses on what would now be called the sociology of gender and delved into the dynamics of gender and work. Throughout his career, he actively mentored students and gave them the confidence to pursue their dreams, and they continued to stay in touch and visit him long after retirement. Unlike many men of his time, he was a feminist who actively supported his wife, Nancy, in her career and recreational interests and encouraged his daughters and granddaughters to embrace their full potential and chase their aspirations. His sociological lens on the world around him and the pursuit of ideas enabled by being in academia was embraced by both of his daughters, who completed PhDs in Sociology and became professors, and by his four granddaughters, who have degrees and careers in social science-related fields. As was the case throughout much of his life and even in recent years, Don was a voracious reader. He read The New York Times as well as several other newspapers daily and was typically simultaneously reading several books at once. For decades, he went to Stewart’s to pick up the newspapers before heading to the Cascades diner for breakfast with Nancy. Don was an amazing and loving husband, father, and grandfather. He was adventurous and took special pleasure from many cross-country tent-camping trips with his family, and with his wife, Nancy, visited all 50 states as well as many US and Canadian national parks. Chincoteague Island, Virginia, became one of his and Nancy’s favorite destinations. As a life-time birder, he saw approximately 600 species of birds and took great delight in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge as well as the wooded oasis in his own backyard that he created for birds. After retirement, he and Nancy continued to travel and explore the US and Canada, including trips to Sanibel and Captiva Island, Florida. They also traveled outside North America, including the Bahamas, several trips back to Bermuda, and to remote locations in Turks and Caicos, Guatemala, Panama, Belize, and Costa Rica. In Europe, they toured France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. Their daughters and granddaughters accompanied them on many of these trips. Don took great joy in videotaping and narrating these travels as well as family outings and events, capturing moments to be forever cherished. In earlier years, Don enjoyed fishing, golfing, and downhill skiing with his family. In his fifties, he and Nancy became avid runners. They participated in numerous races each year and often won medals in their age category. Don participated in road races into his late seventies, and then supported Nancy’s running into her mid-eighties, always cheering her on and being the enthusiastic videographer. Don also especially enjoyed building with wood and could create anything from a five-story cat tree to an outdoor house for a cat to a set of bookshelves to wooden blocks for his granddaughters. Throughout his life, Don had a special bond with the many cats that he and Nancy rescued and cherished. To all who knew Don whether family, friends, students, caregivers in their home, or someone on the street or in a store, or that they met on their travels, Don brought joy and insight. He shared his huge, warm caring heart, was hilariously funny, a fabulous storyteller, and had tremendous curiosity. He was a great conversationalist and optimist with vast knowledge. And he offered a refreshing and wise perspective on life and the world that profoundly and positively impacted all he knew and with whom he interacted. He had a zest for life and his bright smile and laughter would bring sunshine as he burst into a little song or poem or asked questions about your day or your life. He was always working on self-improvement and even at the age of 99, he had goals to walk more, eat healthier, drink more water, and clean his desk. In addition to his beloved wife, Nancy, he is survived by two daughters, Carol Auster (Stan Mertzman) of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Ellen Auster of Toronto, Ontario. Additional survivors include four granddaughters, Lauren Auster-Gussman, Lisa Auster-Gussman, Lindsey Auster-Weiss, and Shannon Auster-Weiss; five step-grandchildren, Lisa Mertzman (Chris Weaver), Michael Mertzman (Melissa), Karen Mertzman (Ed Klemmer), Julie Quinn (Patrick), and Kristen Tingue (Derrick); and thirteen great step-grandchildren. He bonded closely with many of our caregivers, supporting them, shaping their world views, and encouraging them on in their careers and life. Kaitlin Corscadden, whom he knew the longest, was like another daughter to him, and he cherished their relationship. Don will be forever and deeply missed by all who knew him. A Celebration of Life will be held in the spring/summer of 2022. Memories and condolences may be shared on the Tribute Wall at www.lawrencefuneralhome.com. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made online or mailed to The Unitarian-Universalist Church of Canton, St. Lawrence Valley SPCA, or Office for the Aging – Meals on Wheels.
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