By Scarlett Wedergren, American Red Cross Volunteer
It all started in the water. This is Duane’s story.
Duane Austria—an American Red Cross volunteer of 50 years—has seen and accomplished an incredible depth and breadth of volunteer experiences. His journey with the Red Cross began as a 14-year-old swimming and lifeguarding instructor in Hawaii, helping others learn to be safe in a beautiful Pacific Ocean classroom. This eventually led to his first job as a lifeguard at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. A few years later, in 1970, he became a certified Water Safety Instructor at the Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu. To this day, Austria continues to lifeguard and teach young people how to swim.
Austria’s life eventually landed him in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he works as a Service Associate in the Life, Safety, Asset Protection Casework/Recovery and the External Relations Government Operations Group Activity with the Red Cross Southeast Nebraska Chapter Disaster Cycle Services staff. He is also the American Red Cross liaison with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and serves in the State Emergency Operations Center in Lincoln on an as-needed basis.
Austria is currently the Community Volunteer Leader of the Red Cross Southeast Nebraska Chapter where he assists Executive Director Steph Novacek in chapter operations and as an elected official liaison. For 50 years, Austria has been Training Services instructor, teaching swimming, lifeguarding, CPR, First Aid, and Automatic Emergency Defibrillator (AED) classes for the Lincoln Parks and Recreations services and the Boy Scouts of America Cornhusker Council. He also instructs the Emergency Responder course for the Red Cross First Aid Services Team.
Austria’s selfless volunteerism is an inspiration to all and a gift that keeps on giving. A standard shopping trip to Walmart was once interrupted when several of Austria’s former swim students ran up and hugged him, thanking him for teaching them how to swim.
“It’s the people who have really made the most impact on my Red Cross experience,” Austria said. “The staff and volunteers have consistently demonstrated character values that I share - selfless service, cultural inclusion, and unlimited compassion for those in need.”
Beyond operations consulting and swimming instruction, Austria was deployed to Springfield, Missouri, for two weeks in 2017 to provide essential casework assistance to families who had lost everything in the historic Midwest flood. The experience proved to be the most physically and emotionally challenging of his entire Red Cross journey, and through it, Austria showed resilience and compassion to those most in need.
Austria’s legacy will endure for decades to come.
“I hope that the lifesaving skills I have taught will be used to save the lives of others,” he says. “I hope that I have inspired others to volunteer with the Red Cross and provide humanitarian assistance wherever and whenever they can.”
Austria’s wish is that more people knew that the Red Cross continuously needs volunteers to provide selfless service. Everyone is welcome to join.
Austria’s work fulfilled his personal goals of teaching water safety and emergency first aid to save lives.
“I learned that I can make our world a better and safer place to live in,” he says.