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Week of September 19, 2011


Big House is home to longtime guide

Today, Bill Austin can’t scamper up and down the aisles at Michigan Stadium like he did as a Boy Scout ushering fans in the late 1940s.

“I could run those steps but I don’t do that anymore,” says Austin, who still navigates the stadium with ease as he leads as many as three tours a day.

Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services.

Austin, 77, a longtime Ann Arbor resident and U-M sports fan, worked nearly 41 years in finance for Ford Motor Co. before retiring in 1996. He was at Ford when his involvement with U-M’s sports facilities began in 1981.

“I started ushering men’s basketball games at Crisler Arena,” Austin says. “So in 1996 when I retired from Ford, they said ‘We can put you to work if you would like to work with the Athletic Department,’ and I said ‘Yes.’”

To be a good usher, be courteous and able to answer questions, Austin says. “After Michigan won a big game we’ve had students rush the floor and we had to make sure nobody got hurt. After they’ve been celebrating a little while, you need to get them off the floor,” says Austin, who now works as an events assistant with the Athletic Department.

His assignments with the Athletic Department have included scheduling at the Varsity Tennis Center, instructing ticket takers and football ushers, and working with coaches to fill display cases housed in sports facilities. For 14 years one of Austin’s jobs has been to take the athletic director to interviews and tailgate parties via golf cart, before home football games. Of athletic directors, Austin says, “Bo (Schembechler) was always very personable with me. I’d be walking down the hallway and he’d yell at me to say ‘Hi.’ I’d always make a point if he wasn’t busy to say ‘Hi’ to him.”

Austin has been giving stadium tours for 10 years. The 60-90 minute tours (“It depends on how many questions they ask,” he says) include the press box, locker room, stadium club, new suites and walking onto the field. “When I’m giving these tours, whether it’s young kids, adults or senior citizens, I like to see the enjoyment on their faces,” Austin says.

The tour includes stadium facts. Among those that tour goers find most impressive are Michigan Stadium’s current NCAA record for 232 straight games with more than 100,000 people attending.

Born in Grand Rapids, Austin was 8 when his family relocated to Ann Arbor in 1942. He earned a business degree in accounting from Eastern Michigan University and in 1959 following a stint in the Army, married wife Patricia in Ann Arbor.

Austin’s tie to U-M continues off the job, as he is active in the U-M Club of Ann Arbor and is a past president. He helps secure U-M coaches to speak at the Monday club luncheons at Weber’s Inn. The club also sponsors scholarships for athletes and nonathletes, and is lead sponsor for the year-end basketball banquet.

Austin played pickup basketball for years with a group of fellow Ford employees, softball with a church group, and tennis, before giving up that sport in 2000 following a hip replacement.

He has served 15 years as ruling elder with the First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, heading the finance committee. The church also takes advantage of Austin’s usher experience; he is head usher. “My responsibility is to get people to usher at the worship services on Sunday and at memorial services,” he says.

The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at



Bill Austin, events assistant, Athletic Department facilities and operations, on reactions from people touring Michigan Stadium: “When I’m giving these tours, whether it’s young kids, adults or senior citizens, I like to see the enjoyment on their faces.”


Treeline: Mixed Media Painting by Robert Mullenix, through Oct. 10 in the Gifts of Art Gallery, University Hospital Main Lobby, Floor 1.

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