In the one year since the first person tested positive for COVID-19 in Texas, 754 Travis County residents have died from the virus. Older residents—those 60 and older—have been disproportionately affected, representing 12% of the county's confirmed cases but 82% of deaths. So, too, are Latino residents, who make up 33.6% of the county population and account for 46% of COVID deaths.
Although testing and vaccine access have both improved, coinciding with a declining case-fatality rate, the pandemic remains threatening to many—COVID is the third-leading cause of death in Travis County, second only to cancer and heart diseases—and continues to devastate families around Austin.
In a trying year that has included not only the coronavirus but also mass protests against police violence, economic hardship, a divisive election and a series of devastating winter storms, Austonia recognizes those who have died from COVID. Here are the names of 36, or just shy of 5%, of them and—where available through obituaries, fundraising pages and local reports—a brief glimpse at their lives.
Feb. 13, 2021: A. Robert Fischer, 63, loved the company of dear friends, good wine and food, attending the University of Texas football and basketball games and, most of all, his family, according to his obituary.
Jan. 20, 2021: James Ernst, 98, was preceded by the 411,534 Americans who had died from the virus at the time of his death, according to his obituary. He joined the army in 1942 and supported the D-Day invasion by parachuting into LaHavre, France in October 1945. In 2019, he was honored with France's highest award for his role in the country's liberation.
Jan. 16, 2021: Dwight Eugene Cassell, 89, received a recommendation from one of his geology professors at the University of Texas at Austin to "call on a certain young lady" who later became his beloved wife of 64 years, according to his obituary.
Jan. 12, 2021: Joe Alvarado Jr., 76, was an Austin Police Department training instructor, who had earned a 10th degree black belt in Soryu karate and had a passion for embroidery. "Joe truly loved our officers and they loved him the same," the Austin Police Association wrote in a Facebook post following his death.
Jan. 10, 2021: Chencho Flores, 91, a veteran accordionist, began playing music in Austin in the 1940s and remained a renowned member of the local conjunto—a Tejano-style ensemble—scene through the 2010s.
Jan. 8, 2021: James Robert "Jim Bob" Moffett, 82, was born on the same day as Elvis Presley's death and died on Presley's birthday. The oil magnate and University of Texas donor often impersonated the singer at parties or his children's events.
Jan. 8, 2021: Kenneth "Beaver" Ray Bray, 82, was a 50-year member of the Balcones Country Club, where he spent some of his best times with his best friends, and enjoyed his work with House of Friends, an Alzheimer's respite program, according to his obituary.
Dec. 15, 2020: Patricia Dean Dodgen, 84, was "an Austinite through and through," according to her obituary. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, taught at multiple elementary schools around town and traveled the world with the Flying Longhorns.
Dec. 2, 2020: Patricia Perez, 70, was a dedicated Travis County poll worker who had a passion for politics. Her family believes she contracted the virus while working during the early voting period last October.
Sept. 5, 2020: Guadalupe "Shorty" Ortiz, 78, recorded the hit song "Un Ratito," which was nominated for a Tejano Music Award, when he was 19 and founded two bands: Shorty and the Corvettes, a popular '60s group, and Mariachi Corbetas, which included his son and grandson. A charismatic performer, he would often choose a woman in the crowd to sing his songs too. "Let's say eight times out of 10, they would start crying," his son told the Austin American-Statesman.
We have had the Ortiz Family in our hearts and minds and will dearly miss our friend, Guadalupe "Shorty" Ortiz. Ortiz was an Austin music icon with his groups Shorty & the Corvettes and Mariachi Corbetas. pic.twitter.com/ttPsszCoY3
— Texas Folklife (@texasfolklife) September 18, 2020
Aug. 21, 2020: René van Zanten, 76, was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and later moved with his family to the Netherlands before immigrating to the U.S. He spent the last 13 years of his life in Austin and will be "remembered by many for his vast intellect, engaging personality and love of life," according to his obituary.
Aug. 19, 2020: Sebastian "Sebe" Cardenas, 53, grew up in East Austin the youngest of six children and later became a father—and father figure—to many, according to his obituary. He loved grilling, the Dallas Cowboys and jamming out to classic rock.
Aug. 14, 2020: Jesse "Chuy" Ramirez Morales, 77, was one of nine members of his family to contract the virus. His son, Roger, was released from the hospital in December after a five-month stay, according to Spectrum News; his other son, George, is a Travis County constable and hopes to encourage his community to get vaccinated to help avoid a similar loss.
Aug. 14, 2020: Virginia Ann Hranitzky Hirsch, 92, was known as the Flounder Lady in Port O'Connor, Texas, where she fished with her son until she could no longer get in and out of a boat, due to her prowess for the sport.
Aug. 2, 2020: Willie Showels Sr., 81, opened Willie's Bar-B-Q on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with his wife, Pearlie Mae, in 1991 and served as its pitmaster until early last year. He is survived by 10 of his 11 children, 42 grandchildren and 72 great-grandchildren, according to Austin 360.
Late July 2020: Claudia Bertaud, 48, loved dancing to norteñas, a genre of music from Northern Mexico, according to KXAN. She worked as a Spanish immersion preschool teacher in South Austin and stopped going to work after developing a cough.
July 28, 2020: Lois P. Villaseñor, 87, was a dedicated and pioneering funeral home director for over 40 years, tirelessly serving East Austin families as one of the state's first female funeral home directors. The day after her death, her son, Charles Villaseñor II hosted a funeral service for another family. "They said, 'Your mother just died, you're here doing a funeral?'" he told the Austin Business Journal. "I just told them my mom would have expected me to do my job and treat them right."
July 25, 2020: James Nagy, 71, was known for his personal style and good eye for antique furniture and art. He also took great pride in raising his daughters "to be as empowered and adventurous as he was," according to his obituary. "Whether it was a road trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains or an NYC subway ride, he was determined to show them the world."
July 19, 2020: Billy "Logan" Pausewang, 94, married his wife, Imola, at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, where his funeral was held after his death from COVID. "God needed the 'best machinist' in heaven so He called Logan home," according to his obituary.
July 16, 2020: Raymond Guillory, 78, loved woodworking and "dancing as often as he could" to country music bands, according to his obituary.
July 15, 2020: Edmund Gerald "Jerry" Wermund, 94, spent his career focused on the geology of the Gulf Coast region. In his retirement, he volunteered as a docent for the Austin Children's Museum, now the Thinkery, and published four scholastic children's books about geology and earth resources.
July 13, 2020: Manuel Alvarado was a "much-loved" custodian at Crockett Early College High School, according to a GoFundMe organized by Principal Kori Crawford, and spent much of his free time renovating his home in Cedar Creek.
July 12, 2020: Jordan Herrera, 38, died four days after walking himself out to the ambulance that took him to the hospital, where he died of COVID after saying goodbye to his fiancée and their two daughters over Zoom.
July 9, 2020: Mary Margaret "Sug" Blackwell, 83, earned a bronze medal in diving at the Junior Olympics, served as a duchess during Fiesta in San Antonio and was famous for her recipes, including for crab rolls, rum cake and gumbo, according to her obituary.
July 3, 2020: Vincent Paul Segura, 64, earned an offer to try out with the Houston Astros as a teenager and spent his later years spending time with his family and friends, who remember him as a one-of-a-kind South Austin legend.
June 13, 2020: Dale LaPlant, 81, celebrated his 35th birthday 47 times. His ashes will be placed in the Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida.
June 11, 2020: Michael Hickson, 46, was a Black father of five with quadriplegia and COVID-19 whose death raised concerns among disability rights activists and community leaders. "ADAPT of Texas has long been concerned about the devaluation and resulting lack of care for people with disabilities, especially in this pandemic," the local disability rights organization wrote on its website in the wake of Hickson's death.
June 3, 2020: Harold Miller, 74, opened a small private practice dedicated to serving low-income and uninsured Austinites, which he called "Texas Country Doctor in the City," according to his obituary.
May 27, 2020: Billie Lee Turner, 95, was a professor emeritus in the integrative biology department at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the nation's foremost plant taxonomists, with a particular expertise in the sunflower family. One of his proudest accomplishments was quintupling the size of the UT herbarium to one million holdings, according to a Texas Leader Magazine profile.
May 19, 2020: David Uhrich, 60, died at Hospital Galveston after being transferred from a Navasota prison, where he was serving a five-year sentence out of Travis County. People in Texas prisons die from COVID at disproportionately high rates: 140% higher than the statewide rate and 35% higher than the national prison population average, according to a November report from the University of Texas at Austin.
April 18, 2020: David Colbert, 47, was among the 256 homeless residents who died on Austin's streets last year. The National Coalition for the Homeless cited his experience in its 2003 list of "Meanest Cities" for poor and homeless people, on which Austin ranked eighth.
April 17, 2020: Maurice Dotson, 51, was a certified nursing assistant at a South Austin nursing home and one of the first health care workers in Austin to die from the virus. A friend told the Austin American-Statesman that he would check in on his residents every single night to make sure they didn't need anything before he headed home.
April 16, 2020: Lois Thomas, 89, was an avid reader and kept a thick notebook throughout her life, where she listed the books she had read.
April 16, 2020: Barbara Jane Gardner, 86, "enjoyed nothing more than a long conversation in the kitchen while cooking and watching her detective shows," according to her obituary. She spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home, where her husband of 63 years visited her every day.
April 14, 2020: Selma Esther Ryan, 96, died of COVID more than 100 years after her sister, Esther, died at age 5 during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Because of her husband's military appointments, she and her family lived in Ethiopia during a coup d'etat; she dug out one of the bullets lodged in their home and had it gold-plated for her charm bracelet.
April 2, 2020: Patricia Hernandez, 51, was a "much-loved" community member at Casis Elementary School and longtime employee of Austin ISD. Annelise Tanner, AISD's executive director of food service, told CBS Austin: "Pati would always show me the food she'd prepared for the kids that day and was very proud of the quality of food that she prepared for the kids."
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Community First! Village, Austin's 'most talked about neighborhood,' will add 1,400 homes for chronically homeless
Local nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes announced plans to vastly expand Community First! Village, a 51-acre master-planned development that is home to more than 220 formerly chronically homeless residents, on Wednesday.
The two-phase expansion will add 1,400 micro homes and 127 acres between two pieces of land—one across the street from Community First! Village on Hog Eye Road in far East Austin and the other on Burleson Road in Southeast Austin—with development starting in summer 2022. The land purchases were made possible thanks to a donation commitment from Love, Tito's, the philanthropic arm of Tito's Handmade Vodka. (Disclosure: Tito's is an Austonia sponsor.)
Mobile Loaves & Fishes has operated Community First! Village, which Austin Mayor Steve Adler has coined as "Austin's most talked about neighborhood," for more than five years. During that time, the social outreach ministry has paid out more than $3 million to residents, who make and sell art and maintain the village.
The expansion consists of Community First! Villages third and fourth phases and will more than triple its size and sextuple its current number of homes, from 240 to 1,900 total. In addition to the coming micro-homes, the village also includes RVs and canvas-sided cottages.
Amber Fogarty, president of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, said the expansion announcement is proof that there is hope despite the city's ongoing homelessness crisis. "We realize there's an intensifying conversation happening in our city right now as it relates to homelessness, and for some it may seem like a dismal situation," she said in a statement. "It brings us great joy to think that today's expansion news means we will bring home many more of our friends who are currently suffering on the streets of Austin."
As residents prepare to vote on a controversial proposition that would reinstate a ban on camping and other activities in parts of the city, Adler said Community First! Village is "a vital and important piece of the puzzle" when it comes to addressing homelessness in Austin and praised Mobile Loaves & Fishes founder and CEO Alan Graham for his vision.
To be eligible to live at Community First! Village, applicants must be chronically homeless, meaning they have lived in a place unsuitable for habitation for at least one year and have at least one qualifying disability; have lived in Travis County for at least one year; and have the ability to pay rent, through social security income, disability benefits or on- and off-site work.
Tim Shea has lived at Community First! Village for five years. (Emma Freer)
Tim Shea has lived at Community First! Village for five years, after three decades of intermittent homelessness, heroin addiction and incarceration. After living in an RV, he became the first person in the country to move into a 3D-printed home, furnished by the Austin-based construction technology company ICON. "I am loving it," he said, citing its high ceilings, big windows and solidity as his favorite features.
The expansion plans are welcome news to Shea. "I'm not surprised," he said. "I just know that more people need to know about it."
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Austin FC's first season will officially be underway, but their inaugural match will be nearly 1,500 miles away from their home city.
The match, which will see No. 21 ATXFC face No. 2 LAFC, will be broadcast nationally on FOX and FOX Deportes at 5 p.m. on Saturday, but for some, simply watching from home isn't quite enough.
Luckily, Austin FC, fan clubs and bars across the city are looking to keep the soccer spirit alive in Austin through several Saturday watch parties. So, put on your Verde gear and head to one of these watch parties this weekend.
1. Circle Brewing Co., 2340 W Braker Ln
This 12-hour party (from 11 a.m.-11 p.m.) claims to be the biggest watch party in Austin. Formed by Austin Anthem, ATXFC's original supporters' group, the outdoor party will hold over 1,000 people in the lot in front of Circle Brewing near Q2 Stadium. Entry is free, and the immersive experience will feature a 23' x 13' screen viewable from 500 feet away, an immersive audio experience and a special guest DJ at 7:30 p.m. RSVP here.
The event is entirely outdoors. All attendees must wear face masks when not eating or drinking.
2. Hopsquad Brewing, 2307 Kramer Lane
Hopsquad Brewing, the official headquarters of Austin FC supporters group Los Verdes, is launching an immersive watch party to kick off the team's first season. Free to enter, the Brewery will feature indoor and outdoor taps and screens, live music, art and food trucks. Rideshare or take a ride on Cap Metro for $1 off your first beer. The party begins at noon and is set to end at 7 p.m. RSVP here.
Indoor and outdoor space is available, and masks are required when not eating or drinking.
3. Black Sheep Lodge, 2108 South Lamar Blvd.
For those who want Los Verdes action on the south side, head to Black Sheep Lodge. Starting at 3:30 p.m., the watch party will include La Murga's signature chants, stickers and plenty to drink through 8:30 p.m. RSVP here.
A mask is required when not eating or drinking.
4. Rustic Tap, 613 W. 6th St.
For those looking for a downtown locale, this watch party will be going from noon to close. This pet-friendly location will feature a 7 by 12 foot LED wall, live music and over 60 Texas-based spirits.
5. Mean Eyed Cat, 1621 W 5th St.
6. Star Bar, 600 W 6th St.
7. Lavaca Street Bar, 405 Lavaca St.
Gibson Street Bar, 1109 S Lamar Blvd
For those south of downtown, Gibson Street Bar will have a low-key watch party ready for the club's first match. RSVP here.
6. Over 30 pub partners
If none of these watch parties are quite the right fit for you, 31 bars will be streaming the match in the Austin metro as part of the Austin FC Pub Club.
- Austin Eastciders- Barton Springs, 1530 Barton Springs Rd.
- Austin Eastciders- Collaboratory 979 Springdale Rd. Suite 130
- B.D. Riley's Mueller, 1905 Aldrich St. Unit 130
- The Bon Aire, 9070 Research Blvd
- Bouldin Acres, 2027 S Lamar Blvd
- Casa Chapala, 9041 Research Blvd Suite 100
- The Cavalier, 2400 Webberville Rd Unit A
- Cover 2,13701 N Highway 183
- Cover 3 Anderson Lane, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 202
- Happy Chicks, 214 E 6th St.
- Haymaker, 2310 Manor Rd.
- High Five- Anderson Ln, 2700 W Anderson Ln Unit 101
- Local Post Pub, 7113 Burnet Rd
- Pelons, 802 Red River St
- Play on 6th, 620 W 6th St
- Pluckers, various locations
- Revelry On The Boulevard, 6215 N Lamar Blvd
- Revelry- East 6th, 1410 E 6th St
- Rusty Cannon Pub, 730 W Stassney Ln Unit 120
- San Jac Saloon, 300 E 6th Street
- Shiner's Saloon, 422 Congress Ave Unit D
- Shooters Billiards 620, 11416 N FM 620
- Taco Flats, mulitple locations
- Twin Peaks, 701 E Stassney Ln
- Cover 3- Round Rock, 2800 N Interstate Highway 35 Unit 200, Round Rock
- Crafthouse, 242 N LBJ Dr. Suite 101, San Marcos
- High Five- Lakeway1502 RM-620 N Lakeway, Lakeway
- Red Rooster's, 109 E Pecan St., Pflugervile
- Sean Patrick's, 202 E San Antonio St., San Marcos
- Shooter's Billiards Cedar Park, 601 E Whitestone Blvd, Cedar Park
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As Austin navigates its homelessness crisis, city voters will decide starting Monday whether to reinstate a ban on sitting, lying and camping in certain areas of the city. Proposition B has drawn impassioned support and opposition and is perhaps the most contentious item on the May 1 ballot.
Austonia sought out clear and brief editorials from either side of the debate. Arguing in favor of Prop B is Cleo Petricek, a Democrat and co-founder, along with Travis County GOP Chairperson Matt Mackowiak, of the Save Austin Now political action committee, which has led the charge to reinstate the camping ban. Opponent Emily Seales is a licensed clinical social worker and advocate with over 20 years of experience working and volunteering in homeless services in Austin and around the country. She is currently on staff at the Sunrise Homeless Navigation Center and is board co-chair of Open Door.
Editor's note: These submissions are the unedited views of their authors. Claims made have not been fact-checked to give the proponent and opponent a chance to speak their minds freely.
Homeless residents have also set up tents along Cesar Chavez Street near Buford Tower, which recently caught fire after a blaze spread from the camp. (Emma Freer)
Pro: Voting yes on Prop B sends a message to council that voters' voices and real solutions are paramount
In June 2019, the Austin City Council rescinded regulations on camping in public spaces. They did so without any serious public discussion and in fact appeared to actively avoid serious scrutiny. The resulting chaos is clear for all to see. Parks and playgrounds impacted by illicit behavior, lewd activities in public, trash strewn in waterways and public spaces, and most critically, assaults on the public and on other homeless individuals.
It is obvious that the homeless are not helped by this misadventure. Vulnerable women and youth in these camps are abused, mentally ill individuals are not served and there is no incentive for substance abusers to seek help.
Proponents of this mess have put forward no credible plan for any short term housing that restores safety—instead they talk about abstract housing concepts that even they acknowledge will take years to develop. This is the mark of narrowly focused activism, not what citizens should expect from elected leaders who promise to serve their communities. At every turn, the proponents of this chaos have demonstrated that they are not capable of fully considering the needs of diverse communities and proposing workable solutions. Instead they simply double down on trying to tell Austin that anything other than their chaos is heartless and inhumane. This is intellectually lazy, and Austin should demand better.
The chaos created by the City Council has resulted in a public outcry culminating in the citizens demanding to be heard by direct ballot. This demand is across the political and economic spectrum. As a co-founder of the Save Austin Now PAC and a lifelong Democrat, I have seen the diversity of people raising their voices in concern for our city.
It's time we turn this situation around and vote yes on Prop B. It sends a clear message to the council that the citizens of Austin must be heard as we work toward real solutions. There are successful models to learn from and some in our own state. But it all starts with voting yes on Prop B starting April 19.
A homeless residents sleeps in the middle of a bike scavenging operation based at a camp under the South Austin overpass. (Jordan Vonderhaar)
Con: Prop B blames homeless individuals rather than providing solutions to societal problems
Austin's homeless population needs help, but Prop B doesn't do anything to solve our city's problems. It simply tells people who are experiencing homelessness that they cannot exist, visibly, in public space. I, too, am worried about the encampments. They are evidence that our strategies to help people return to housing aren't sufficient. But telling people "You can't stay here" without giving them alternatives isn't a solution.
The reason so many people are experiencing homelessness is that it takes a long time to get into housing, even when you do everything right. Shelters are at capacity, we lack deeply affordable housing, landlords can refuse housing vouchers, and housing programs are full.
As a case study, I want to tell you about "Bill," whom I met two years ago. Bill was a veteran, father, former truck driver and person of faith. He was also homeless and unsheltered. Bill had recently suffered a series of strokes and was desperate for both disability income and housing.
Bill and I worked together every single week for 17 months. He eventually was awarded disability and moved into his own apartment.
Bill's situation is typical of hundreds of people who are stymied by our complicated processes and lack of housing. Prop B would not add resources for people like Bill. Read the ballot language. Because Prop B bans "camping," people would have to move around constantly to avoid being cited. All that moving around takes time and energy. People like Bill would have a harder time keeping their appointments with case managers. Unpaid fines from citations build a criminal record—and landlords can choose not to rent to someone with a record. So punishing people for not having housing makes it even harder to get housing. Prop B hurts, not helps.
In this election, Austinites have a choice to criminalize people like Bill or to work toward solutions. Prop B places the blame on individuals rather than recognizing homelessness as a failure of society.Prop B is an inhumane and wrong response. Oppose Prop B, and let's focus on solutions. Learn more here.
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