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Published: Sunday, 8/17/2003

Many friendships led to political stint

HUDSON, Mich. - Robert VanAuken, a Standard Oil agent who served as a councilman and the mayor of Hudson, died Friday in his home. He was 80.

Mr. VanAuken died of emphysema, his wife, Wanda, said.

After graduating from Fayette, Ohio, High School in 1941, Mr. VanAuken began working on his parents' farm. There, he sowed small crops of corn and beans and raised cattle for several years, before marrying Wanda Austin on Sept. 16, 1944.

In 1951, his father-in-law, Walyn Austin, retired from his job as an agent for Standard Oil and offered Mr. VanAuken the position. Mr. VanAuken accepted, and moved to Hudson, where he bought a home.

The new job agreed with him. As an agent, Mr. VanAuken would travel to factories, farms, and residences throughout the Hudson area, delivering gas and fuel oil and meeting dozens of people a day. In that time, he made many friends - some of them a bit different.

“On one of his first jobs, a dog came running up to him and took hold of his hand,” his wife said. “Didn't break the skin, but walked him right up to the front door of the house and waited.” Mr. VanAuken quickly made friends with the dog, and his owner as well.

Over the years, many similar life-long friendships were established in the area.

Those community contacts convinced Mr. VanAuken to run for Hudson City Council, to which he was elected for several terms in the 1970s. The council voted him in as mayor, though he was forced to step down after just one term because of health problems.

Mr. VanAuken enjoyed singing as much as talking: in the late 1950s, he joined the Hudson Barbershoppers, a 35-member chorus for which he sang baritone and performed in a quartet. He performed in annual Hudson-area concerts for more than 30 years, before emphysema forced him to stop.

After experiencing heart trouble, Mr. VanAuken retired from Standard Oil in 1975. He managed a small woodworking shop, making furniture for family and friends.

Mr. VanAuken was a member of First Congregational Church in Hudson, and a member of the Hudson Volunteer Fire Department in the 1960s.

Surviving are his wife, Wanda; daughter, Kathy Osterberg; son, Thomas; sister, Marjorie Walker; one granddaughter, and six great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be after 2 p.m. today at Eagle Funeral Home in Hudson, where services will be held 11 a.m. tomorrow.

The family requests tributes to First Congregational Church in Hudson, or Hospice of Lenawee County.



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