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Women’s History Month Profile: Kayla Austin

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Kayla Austin and Olga Santoyo (‘19) greet each other in the Caf.

Kayla Austin and Olga Santoyo (‘19) greet each other in the Caf.

Cara Keith (‘21) | Chips

Cara Keith (‘21) | Chips

Kayla Austin and Olga Santoyo (‘19) greet each other in the Caf.

Cara Keith, Staff Writer

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Her freshly manicured nails take Luther ID after Luther ID and swipe them for entrance into the Caf each day. Smiling through hot pink lipstick, Kayla Austin says a variation of “Hi sweetie!” to each student that walks in.

Austin is known for stopping to chat with students about their days and positively influencing them, staff, and community members who come to eat at Luther.

Food Service Manager and Student Work Coordinator Leah McCrea shared why students enjoy Austin’s presence in the Caf.

“She’s very outgoing and knows almost all of the students,” McCrea said. “She’s very mom-like. Especially with the international students and the students from Vietnam, where she’s from. She considers them her kids. She has them at her house, they go places together, she cooks for them. She also does a great job advertising different promotions at the Caf.”

Austin has also affected many of the Luther College chefs with her work ethic and positive attitude. Chef Carlee Meyer attributes that work ethic is what makes Austin a good addition to the kitchen staff.

“I know she’s a super hard worker,” Meyer said. “She’s always at work a half-an-hour early, maybe more, and she’s super friendly.”

Austin has worked in the Caf for eight years. Initially, Austin worked as a chef in the kitchen for three-and-a-half years, but eventually switched to her current cashier position.

Although Austin is employed by Luther College, her original career path was much different. Austin worked in law enforcement for 22 years in Houston. First, she worked as a police officer and later moved on to work as a fingerprint technician in the identification division of her office.

During her time working as a fingerprint technician she met Terry Austin, a man who also worked in law enforcement. They have now been married for 10 years. She spoke about her marriage fondly.

“One day, he was bringing in prisoners to transfer them to the jail where I worked and that’s how he met me,” Austin said. “I didn’t know that I was going to end up being with him or talking to him at all. One day out of the blue he called me and told me who he was and I asked, ‘Did I do something wrong with the fingerprints?’ And he said, ‘No, I would just like to talk to you more’ and that was the beginning of it.”

Photo courtesy of Kayla Austin
Kayla Austin in 1982 at age 20 in Houston, Texas.

Austin’s husband is from Iowa, which is what motivated her to move to Cresco.

Despite the fact that Austin lived in Texas for a large portion of her life, she says that she enjoys small-town life.

“Coming from a big city, I was ready to settle down in a small town where it’s quiet,” Austin said. “There’s not too many cars and not too many people and I like cold weather. It’s good for my health. The only thing I don’t really like is the snow.”

Austin grew up in Vietnam, but in 1975 at the age of 13, she and her younger sister were taken by her aunt and uncle to an immigration center in Vietnam and were able to travel to the United States because her aunt was an American soldier. She left behind two older brothers and one older sister.

After immigrating to the United States, working in law enforcement, and then retiring, Austin decided to settle down in Iowa and work in the Luther Caf. Austin’s favorite part about her job is interacting with students who come through the Caf on a daily basis and forming relationships with them.

“When the football players come in, they love the heck out of me,” Austin said. “Whenever I see them, I see my son. I see the young ladies walking around with their nurse uniforms on, and I see my daughter, who is a nurse.”

Samantha Fletcher (‘20) said that Austin makes students feel welcomed when they come into the Caf.

“I think that she notices who the [first-years] are and she tries to talk to them more, which is super nice,” Fletcher said. “This year, I had a straight leg brace and she was super concerned when she saw me and she started asking about it. She’s just very compassionate. I’m not a morning person, but even in the morning, I always talk to Kayla because she’s cheerful and nice.”

Austin has also formed relationships with the staff members on campus. Vice President for Enrollment Management Scot Shaeffer said Austin has influenced his life.

“I don’t really remember how I got to know her, I just got to know her,” Schaeffer said. “She’s always so friendly and happy and outgoing. She makes you smile. I’ve gotten to know her more because she makes these unbelievable spring rolls and every time my son comes home to visit, I put an order in to Kayla to make the spring rolls for him.”

Austin looks forward to continuing to make new relationships with the students and faculty at Luther as she works in the Caf.

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