Snowflake Days founder returning to Coon Rapids

The man who spearheaded the launch of Coon Rapids Snowflake Days as a member of the Coon Rapids Jaycees in 1964 and was its first marquis in 1969 is returning to the city for the 50th anniversary of the celebration next week.

Chuck Austin, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, will be arriving in Coon Rapids Thursday, Feb. 13, attending the Valentine’s Day Sno Ball Dance at the Coon Rapids Civic Center  Friday, Feb. 14 and then a reunion lunch for members of the 1964 Coon Rapids Jaycees and Mrs. Jaycees at the Coon Rapids American Legion Saturday, Feb. 15.

“I would like to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the event that I originated,” he wrote in an email.

He served as its first chairperson after getting the Jaycees to sponsor the idea, according to Austin.

“The purpose behind Snowflake Days was to develop a civic celebration that everyone in the community could participate in and at the same time, improve the image of Coon Rapids through increased public exposure,” Austin wrote.

Some of the events in the early days of Snowflake Days were ice skating contests, Miss Coon Rapids contest, queen’s tea, snowmobile parade, window painting contest, bridge tournament, square dancing, prayer breakfast, civic theater productions, Mrs. Jaycees fashion show, and junior commodore and queen contest, he wrote.

By 1968, Snowflake Days had grown to the point that broader sponsorship than the Jaycees was necessary, according to Austin.

Articles of incorporation were filed in 1968 and by-laws adopted for the Coon Rapids Snowflake Association, Inc.

Ron Strand was elected the first president and other active members were Dave Olson, Dave Larson, Mark Ruiz and John Troan, Austin wrote.

Born and raised in Des Moines, Austin graduated from North Des Moines High School in 1949 and spent time in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Reserves in the 1950s.

He and his wife, Marie, and their four children, Vickie, Phyllis, Melody and Mark, moved from Des Moines to Coon Rapids in 1960 where he was employed by Super Valu Stores, Inc. as the Minneapolis division bakery products manager in charge of private label bakery products and in-story bakery programs.

“Coon Rapids had about 6,600 residents at that time, who lived in several developed pockets across the community,” Austin wrote.

“We were the first residents on Xavis Street, at 11636, and watched over the next several years as families moved in from all across the country.”

According to Austin, he began to realize that Coon Rapids wasn’t the hometown of hardly anyone and joined the Jaycees because it was the most active group in the city.

When he served as Jaycee Week chairperson, it became apparent while traveling around the community “that we were scattered and had no cohesiveness as a city,” Austin wrote.

There was discussion about changing the name, but Austin wrote a long letter to the Herald stating that instead of the changing the name, “we needed to get busy, pull together and change our image from being a third-tier suburb of Minneapolis to become our own home town,” he wrote.

That was how Snowflake Days, a communitywide activity, was born.

“Many people were gone in the summer, but we were all there in the winter after Christmas,” Austin wrote.

“The first year was hard as we had limited resources, but some great ideas. We used canvas topped pop-up campers for our headquarters on Crooked Lake.”

But Austin was not just involved in Snowflake Days.

He originated the Coon Rapids Gavel Club, where presidents and leaders of all community organizations were invited to meet and discuss their activities, and he served as public affairs director when the Coon Rapids Chamber of Commerce was formed.

According to Austin, he and his wife, Marie, started a teen center at Coon Rapids Junior High School and held Friday night dances.

He was also involved hosting outdoor concerts when the Red Owl Family Center opened and he and a group of fathers formed the Coon Rapids Athletic Association, Austin wrote.

Then-Mayor Joe Craig appointed Austin as city commissioner of youth activities and he later ran unsuccessfully for the Coon Rapids City Council.

The Austins were also charter members of the Coon Rapids Civic Theatre and he designed the city emblem, “Ricky Raccoon,” which received a copyright from the Library of Congress, Austin wrote.

When Austin and his family moved to Portland, Ore., in November 1969, the Coon Rapids community honored them with Austin Appreciation Night, where they received mementos, gifts, letters from many organizations, friends and neighbors as well as from then-Gov. Harold Levander and then-Sen. Hubert Humphrey.

The move to Portland was prompted by Austin taking a position as general manager of the Davidson Sunbeam Wholesale Bakery plants in Portland and Eugene.

According to Austin, in 1972, he and his family moved to Farmington Hills, Mich., when he accepted a position as corporate bakery deli director for Allied Super Markets, which had stores across the United States.

The Austins returned to Des Moines in 1975 when he was named bakery deli products manager for the Des Moines division of Super Valu.

He retired from Super Valu in 1995 and formed Austin and Associates, Ltd., performing consulting services and making public speaking appearances.

Austin’s wife Marie died March 28, 2013 after 58 1/2 years of marriage.

According to Austin, his daughter, Phyllis, died from cancer in 2009; she was married with three children and four grandchildren and was comptroller for 3E Company.

Oldest daughter Vickie, married with three children and three grandchildren, lives in Hillsboro, Ore., and works in healthcare, while daughter Leslie lives in Des Moines with three children and four grandchildren, working in food service.

Daughter Linda also lives in Des Moines with two children and three grandchildren and works in the insurance industry, while daughter Melody is a junior high special education teacher living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with four children and three grandchildren.

Son Mark is a Des Moines resident with three children and six grandchildren. He is an assistant warehouse manager for Casey’s convenience stores and has served as pastor of Southtown Pentecostal Church for the past 15 years, according to Austin.

“I am still busy in the community, serving as assistant pastor to Mark, song leader, camp development director for the Gideons International and performing weddings and funerals.”

Searching for 1964 Jaycees

The search is on for members of the Coon Rapids Jaycees and Mrs. Jaycees that started Coon Rapids Snowflake Days celebration 50 years ago in 1964.

A reunion luncheon is planned for Saturday, Feb. 15, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Coon Rapids American Legion, 11640 Crooked Lake Blvd.

A buffet will be served; the price is $12, which includes tax and tip.

Reservations have to be received by 7 p.m. Feb. 12.

Call Jan Ruiz at 763-767-6273 or Doris Schulte at 612-282-0106.

“If you are unable to attend, you may send a letter to either Jan or Doris and can obtain their address when you call them,” Ruiz said.

“All letters will be read at the luncheon. We look forward to seeing you there.”

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]