Charles O. “Chuck” Austin III, 68, a longtime Quad-City educator and community leader, died Friday in what is being described as an accident at TPC Deere Run, while he was helping to prepare for next week’s John Deere Classic golf tournament.
Rock Island County Coroner Brian Gustafson, who is investigating the accident along with the Silvis Police Department, said Friday that Austin was pronounced dead at 12:50 p.m.
Gustafson said that Austin was driving a four-wheel John Deere Gator when the accident occurred.
“It is our belief that he was under the impression that the vehicle was in reverse when in fact it was in forward or drive,” Gustafson said. “When he hit the gas it lurched and went up under a parked refrigerated semitrailer.”
Austin, of Rock Island, died of injuries sustained in the accident. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.
“Chuck was a 27-year volunteer so it was in his heart and he was part of the operations group that affectionately calls themselves ‘the grunt group,’” tournament director Clair Peterson said Friday afternoon. “So they do any task on any corner of the property to prepare for the tournament and then during tournament week.
“I know that he was immensely proud of the tournament,” Peterson said of Austin. “I remember sitting with him at a dinner because he had nominated the John Deere Classic for special recognition for its charity success. ... He was always very proud of what the tournament did for charity, what it meant to the community, and that’s why he came back every year.”
With all the volunteers who make the John Deere Classic happen, Peterson said that it was tough to isolate Austin among them.
“But Chuck was special and losing him is a real hard blow today,” Peterson said.
“We have volunteers that we recognize and call community heroes and he would certainly fit that definition. Everyone is tremendously saddened by it.”
Austin taught math for 31 years at Rock Island High School.
In 2004, at age 55, he was appointed to serve on the Rock Island City Council as 7th Ward alderman, taking the place of Alderman Frank Forlini who died suddenly.
Austin was elected to his first term on City Council in 2005 and served until this year when he was defeated in the March election by David Geenen.
“He gave meaning to the term ‘Rock Solid Rock Island,’” former Rock Island Mayor Mark Schwiebert said. “That was Chuck.
“His commitment to public service was so great,” Schwiebert said. “I was honored to serve with him on the council.
“He comes from a family that is a model of public service."
Austin’s father, Charles O. Austin, Jr. was a longtime principal of Rock Island High School before becoming superintendent of schools.
Austin’s wife, Ann, served on the Rock Island Park Board for more than three decades, Schwiebert added.
“He left some good footprints for others to follow,” Schwiebert said.
“He loved Rock Island,” said Rock Island 2nd Ward Alderman Virgil Mayberry.
“We served together for two years and he always did his research, and when it came time to vote, he always stood his ground,” Mayberry said of Austin. “He always knew what he was talking about.
“Each vote he cast was for his constituents, and each vote was the right way,” Mayberry added. “He will be a hard man to replace.”
Austin was the boy’s golf coach at Rocky for 16 years. His teams in 1995 and 2000 qualified for the Illinois state tournament.
He also was a track and cross country official for more than a quarter of a century, working meets at the high school and college level. Austin was named as the National Federation of State High School Associations’ official of the year in cross country in 2007 and was a long-time member of the Illinois Track and Cross Country Officials Association.
Austin assisted for a number of years as a statistician for the Rock Island High School boys’ basketball program and was a regular in the stands as a fan at basketball games at Augustana College and St. Ambrose University.
Rocky boys' basketball coach Thom Sigel, who has been the Austins’ next-door neighbor for the past 12 years, said that Austin was the official scorer for home games and some away games.
“What comes to mind is just how much he cared for his school, his city and his community,” Sigel said Friday. “He and his wife, Ann, would walk all the time and we’d see them picking up trash along the way. He was 100 percent committed to his duties as alderman.
“The scope of everything he was involved in is amazing.”