Name: Jeff Austin
Occupation: Phlebotomist, Mayo Clinic
Where we found him: Drawing our blood
Are you originally from Rochester? Yes. We moved here when I was three months old. Graduated from Mayo in 1982.
Rochester: Love it or leave it? I love Rochester. It’s home. It has the best medical in the world. All my family and friends are here. I love the change of seasons. Love the winter. I’m a big hockey fan. All three of my kids were hockey players.
Tell me about your kids. I have a girl and two boys. They’re almost-21, 19, and 17. The oldest is off on his own, and the middle lives with me, and my daughter lives with me. I just got custody of her.
Family’s important to you? Yeah. I have grandchildren, too. Kyla is my granddaughter … and I get to see her regularly. She looks like a princess. She’s a genius, too, by the way. And her smile melts your heart. I also have a four-month old grandson, Xander. Both are great kids and blessings and I love them.
You work more than one job, right? I work at Hobby Lobby a couple nights a week in the framing department, and I own an army surplus and outdoor gear store in Spring Valley—Minnesota Joe’s—with a couple of people.
Why Spring Valley? We got a deal on the building! … The building used to be owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s brother in law. There’s an old rope pulley elevator in the back. It’s all caved in now, but you can see the old pulley system—it’s this cool, primitive, heavy duty system. The craftsmanship is really great.
What’s the most interesting object you sell there? We sell gas masks.
Ever use one? Only in training. I was in the National Guards. That’s how I got my job as a phlebotomist. I was a combat medic.
Hobbies? I love to read—a lot. I read The Bible every morning. I usually have a book I read on my Nook. And I read a regular book, also. I try to do three books at a time. I work out in the mornings, too … running and lifting weights. And I’m also in the Gideons, the group that puts Bibles in hotels.
You have a strong faith. Yes. I run, and while I run I listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Six years ago, I listened to an audiobook of the gospels, and it was like the lights came on for me. It was like I’d gone my whole life in a dimly lit world with blurry vision, and all of sudden, that day, the lights came on and someone handed me prescription glasses. It was powerful. It changed everything about me.
What would I be surprised to learn? I don’t like getting my own blood drawn. I get white coat syndrome when I go to the doctor. My blood pressure goes up. I get nervous, shaky. I can handle working on other people; I just can’t handle it when it’s me.
Tell me about an adventure. When I was a kid, we were going to a family reunion in North Dakota. There were two carloads of us. I was in the lead car with my mom, grandma, my sister Kathy, my sister Lisa, and my brother Greg. And the car behind us was my aunt, grandpa, and cousins. … My brother had a sketch pad, and I took a big, red, bold marker and wrote: “Help! Kidnapped!” on it. My sister stuck it in the back window for my aunt’s car to see, and we forgot it there. Twenty miles into North Dakota, and squad cars are screaming behind us, a helicopter comes down over us. They pulled my mom and grandma out at gun point. My mom had to prove that we were her kids.
Oh my gosh. My mom wouldn’t let us speak the rest of the trip. She held the steering wheel with a death grip all the way to Minot.
You’re wearing a suicide prevention bracelet. Yeah. AFSP.org—the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. My dad committed suicide when I was nine years old. He was only 27. I was the oldest child. All my siblings and I are involved with AFSP. If our efforts can change the mind of one person, it’s worth all the effort we put into it.
That’s tough. I was blessed with incredible grandparents on both sides. Best you could possibly have. And my mom got me in the YMCA Big Brother program. I had a guy mentoring me as a kid, taking me to pro sports events, building rockets, going target shooting. I didn’t have a deprived childhood because my mom thought of that.