HARTWICK - James "Jim" Jardine Austin died peacefully at home on March 3, 2018, after living with Parkinson's Disease for more than a decade.
He was born in New Salem, the fourth of Elizabeth "Betty" and Erwin Austin's five children. When he was young, his family moved to Cooperstown, a town that became the backdrop for most of Jim's life.
A true nature lover, Jim spent his childhood exploring Otsego Lake, the Susquehanna River and surrounding countryside. He developed a deep appreciation for the land and its history. Endlessly curious, he learned all he could about the native plants, geology, indigenous people of the area, and the "homesteader" way of life. Much of this he would later apply to lifelong passions of botany, woodworking, canoeing, historical reenactments and experiential learning. He was truly a Renaissance man.
After graduating from Cooperstown High School in 1967, Jim married Sandra "Sandy" Matteson. In the early years, he and Sandy juggled taking classes at Hartwick College and SUNY Oneonta, renovating their home and parenting their daughter, Jennifer Elizabeth. Eight years after Jennifer was born, they welcomed their son, Tavis James, to the family.
Jim had a long career as a high school science teacher. He got students actively involved in their own education, doing field research and helping to instill in them the same excitement and appreciation he had for the natural world. For more than 30 years, Jim taught biology, chemistry, physics, health, earth science, and environmental studies. He even developed his own Regents level courses which were adopted by NY State. He was considered the district's most highly-trained professional in the areas of cooperative learning, and experiential and outdoor education.
In 1984, Jim, with the help of many students and volunteers, created the Michael A. LaCava Nature Center, nearly 12 acres of wooded area lying on the land between Cooperstown High School and the Susquehanna River. It included miles of maintained trails, fitness stations, and, later, a high elements ropes course. As director of the Nature Center, Jim dedicated the property in honor of his former biology teacher and fellow outdoor enthusiast, Mike LaCava. For decades the center was the hub of much experiential learning in Cooperstown and for schools in the surrounding region. In 1984, Jim was selected as the Conservation Educator of the Year for all of New York State.
Jim was among the first cohort of CCS students and faculty to participate in Outward Bound programs funded by the Clark Foundation. Jim's course in 1985 took him into the high peaks of the Cascades Mountains where he furthered his passion for camping and mountaineering and developed a love of rock climbing. Each of these elements he brought back to the classroom and found ways to include in his students' (and in his own children's) learning. Jim also participated in several Project Adventure workshops. There he learned to design and build high and low ropes course elements, and gained additional skills which he used to lead students on fall and winter back-packing trips in the High Peaks Region of the Adirondack Mountains. The programs Jim created for Cooperstown were developed based upon the models of Outward Bound and Project Adventure.
In addition to teaching, Jim coached the local Quiz Team, Envirothon, Nordic ski team, and cross-country running team. He assisted area teachers in developing their own adventure education programs. He also designed and built ropes courses in several locations throughout the state and, each year, helped orient the new students at Hartwick College through the "Awakening" program offered at the Pine Lake Environmental Campus.
Over the years, Jim and Sandy enjoyed visiting their children in different parts of the country (including a stretch of time when both Jennifer and Tavis lived in California). They visited numerous national parks together, once traveled with friends to Italy, and, in 2001, flew to Scotland and enjoyed connecting with their Scottish ancestries.
Jim is survived by his wife, Sandy; children, Jennifer (Evan) and Tavis (Susan); and grandchildren, Gareth, Rylie, Morgan and Emma. He is also survived by two brothers, Bill (Barbara) and David (Nancy); two sisters, Ann (Donald) Eberle and Janet (Wolf) Wilde; three sisters-in-law, Sharon (Bruce Haight) Matteson, Marjorie (Jim) Leslie and Lori (Jim) Williams; and many nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
Jim was predeceased by his parents, Elizabeth and Erwin Austin; mother and father in-law, Ralph and Irene Matteson; brother-in-law, Jim Williams; and nephew, James Eberle.
Jim will be remembered by all for his creativity and endless curiosity, his quiet humor, his deep kindness and patience, and his signature bear hugs.
Jim's family expresses gratitude to the caring staff of the Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care. Their wisdom and support made it possible to fulfill Jim's wishes for end of life care.
A family celebration of Jim's life will be held this summer. To honor him, consider taking time to go outside and enjoy a day walking on this beautiful earth. Raise a glass in honor of a life well-lived yet far too short. Support a cause important to Jim. His family respectfully suggests donations in Jim's honor be made to Otsego County Conservation Association, OCCA, P.O. Box 931, Cooperstown, NY 13326; SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station, checks payable to "College at Oneonta Foundation" and mailed to the College Foundation Office, Netzer Administration Building, SUNY College at Oneonta, 13820; in the check's memo section, designate the Biological Field Station; Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, 297 River Street Service Road, Oneonta, NY 13820; or online at cahpc.org/donate.
Condolences may be made at ottmanfuneralhome.com.
Arrangements are entrusted to Ottman Funeral Home, Cherry Valley.
Published on March 4, 2018