Sandra Austin

Sandra Austin

Sandra “Sandy” Austin lived a life overflowing in appreciation of art, animals, cookies, beaches, cosmopolitans, friends, family, music and travel.

Coming out of her mother’s womb on June 28, 1941, Sandra felt the Michigan cold air and knew that instant she would be moving south as soon as life would allow. A natural artist, she pursued an art degree at Wayne State University. But she met a dashing young man on a blind date, fell in love, and married her first husband, Paul Polonsky. They moved to his hometown of Washington, D.C., trading the Michigan winters for swampy D.C. summers.
Putting her art education on hold, she and Paul raised three daughters in the metropolitan suburbs of the nation’s capital. Sandra unexpectedly became a widow left to start her life alone and anew at middle age.

A few years later, despondent but determined to get her sugar fix, Sandra went to the local grocery store to wander the cookie aisle in search of her favorite pecan sandies cookies. She found something even more sweet when she ran into her former neighbor, George Austin. Cupid aimed his bow and hit his mark with George falling instantly in love with the beautiful, funny, independent woman who used to live just a few blocks from him and knew the cookie aisle better than anyone else.

Sandy and George fell truly, madly, deeply in love – something neither expected to experience in their 50s.

On Sept. 19, 1995, they wed, with the blessing of Sandra’s three children and George’s four children. They joined their lives, promising to help fulfill each other’s long-held dreams. She took art classes at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Va. They bought a home on Lake Monticello, making Sandy’s dream of living on the water a reality. They built a woodworking shop in the basement where George fulfilled his dream of creating gifts from unique wood they found along their travels across the country. In their custom, light-filled home, Sandra opened an art studio overlooking the lake.

Sandra began her journey with art tentatively with traditional still lifes using colored pencils. As her talent and confidence grew, she began creating intricate watercolor pencil drawings of carousel animals. Her paintings won awards and were purchased by admirers across the state.

With Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman and the Moody Blues playing in the background, the animals in Sandra’s drawings soon lost their restraints, breaking free of the poles and bridles of the carousel. Sandra, too, broke free and her lifelike pencil drawings of bobcats, foxes, hawks and other wild animals exuded a free spirit and intensity lauded by critics, awarded with placements in juried shows and enthusiastically bought by animal and art appreciators.

Never accepting the status quo or resting on her laurels, Sandra bravely put aside her beloved pencils and began venturing into abstract creations using natural elements such as rocks, twigs, bark, sand and paper.

Throughout her two decades of productive artistic creations, George not only inspired and encouraged Sandy, he intensified the beauty of her creations. George, a master woodworker, created custom wood frames for each of Sandra’s pieces of art. He carefully designed and crafted the frames to delicately compliment the artwork they encased. Together, George and Sandra were a formidable and impressive artistic team: Their work has been featured in private homes, county libraries, professional offices, local airports and is being considered for placement in a first-responder museum.
George and Sandra led a life full of art and travel but cherished the time they had with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sandra, a one-time avid fisherman, proudly taught her grandchildren and great-grandchildren how to find worms, prepare a hook and catch fish.

Diagnosed in 2017 with stage IV breast cancer that had metastasized to the spine, Sandra put aside her art tools and tackled one of her greatest fears – travel by airplane – to accomplish a life-long goal of seeing the Sonoran Desert. She spent nearly three weeks captivated by the giant saguaros and prickly pears as well as the fearless javelinas and coyotes who prowled the grounds beginning at dusk. After downing a delicious cosmopolitan, Sandy would join the coyotes in their evening howls of the hunt. The coyotes weren’t as amused as Sandy’s family at the imitation.

Upon returning home in April, Sandra’s cancer unexpectedly grew at an alarming rate. Within two weeks, she was admitted to hospice with less than six months to live. She fought unsteady hands and blurred vision and completed one more colored pencil drawing. With that, she put down her art tools for the last time.

Her dreams fulfilled, her creative talents shared, and her soul yearning to be free of a failing body, Sandra let go on June 10, 2018, and started her next journey. She was surrounded by her three daughters and loving husband.

She is preceded in death by her mother, Ann Kraska, her father, Matthew Kraska, her first husband, Paul Polonsky, and her grandson, Michael Tayman. She is survived by her husband, George Austin, her five daughters: Sylvia Gaffney (Jeff), Deborah Tayman (Daniel), Linda Hillmer (Jay), Denice Fleshman (Michael), Ilene Cann (David); two sons: Richard Austin (Victoria) and Michael Austin (Cynthia); 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; and two brothers, Ronald (Patricia) and Edwin (Nancy) Kraska.

A private memorial for friends and family will be held in July. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Rikkis Refuge, a non-profit, no-kill, life-care sanctuary for all species:

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