AUSTIN'S CAUSE: Be an organ donor

by Jeff Noedel

In the past few years, the Hermann area has responded to sudden, shocking, tragic accidental deaths of local young people in a very activist way.

Loss of the larger-than-life Justin Black in a May 29, 2010 accident in Montgomery County was followed-up with a massive seat belt campaign.  Memorial stickers encouraging seat belt use are seen on many, many vehicles almost three years later.  The possibility that the Justin Black seat belt campaign has saved one or more lives is very real.

The community's response to three tragic car accidents in rapid-succession in late 2011 involving two Hermann High School students (Taylor Thompson, Sep. 5, 2011 and Natalie Knudsen, Dec. 7, 2011) and one young HHS alum (23-year-old Robert Theissen on Dec. 31, 2011) was two-fold:  Hermann High School ran as many students as possible through a simulator to demonstrate the dangers of texting while driving.  At the same time, an almost instant outpouring of community generosity ($14,000+) led the R-1 School District to put together a credible new drivers ed program, from scratch, within a few short months.

Again, it is not only plausible but likely the drivers ed training being invested in Hermann High School students will save lives in the future, if it hasn't already.  Another great cause rising out of not just Hermann's sadness, but also its determination.

As thousands of local people struggle this week to accept the loss of Austin Van Booven, who was 21, and Amanda Witthaus, who was 27, another new, constructive response to the new tragedy has already emerged:  organ donation.

During Van Booven's funeral service today in Rhineland, and again prior to a community dinner at Valentine Hall after Van Booven was laid to rest, it was disclosed that he recently made clear his wishes to someday be an organ donor.

It was said, twice, that Van Booven's various organs and tissues have been or will be transplanted into more than 100 people.  It is highly likely the young man's decision will turn out to save numerous lives, and -- in an important way -- his physical being will live-on, perhaps for decades.

Several hundred mourners gathered at Valentine Hall were told that lapel pins and wrist bands advocating organ and tissue donation are about to be passed out, and if more are needed, they'll be ordered.

In addition to lives that are saved immediately upon major organ transplantation, consider how he has now touched lives of strangers that will branch deep into future generations, and across cites, states and continents.  Through his organ donation, Austin's time on Earth will now be re-manifest across space and time, far more than most of us.

It was said today that being helpful was second nature to Austin Van Booven; several people said that today in the services.  Leadership came second nature to him, too.

In the wake of another incalculable loss to the community, young Austin Van Booven -- even after his death -- is demonstrating his trademark generosity and natural-born leadership in sparking another worthy cause in the Hermann community.

If Hermann had a "Generosity Hall of Fame," Austin Van Booven's gift of life to 100+ human beings would most certainly launch him into the ranks of Hermann's generous wealthy class who have donated things like a Courthouse in 1896, major funds for historic preservation (the German School, the Rotunda, the land around the Courthouse), a senior center and amphitheater, and beautiful community artwork (the Arminius statue, and the modern art in the garden at Hermann Hospital).

Austin reminds us that being generous isn't just about pledging money.  At a time when the economy is weak and money is a worry for many, this is one cause the whole region can join-up with.

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The Mo. Department of Health & Senior Services monitors donor registry enrollment at the time drivers licenses are issued and reissued.  According to published data for 2012, Hermann's participation in the organ donation registry was on the high side of average (46%), and Owensville's participation in organ donation registry was on the low side of average (33%).  The statewide average in 2012 was 38 percent participation.  Click here to see the data.  (

All the highest-participation counties are to the east and north of Kansas City, for some reason.   Liberty, Mo. is 53 percent; Lee's Summit is 55 percent.  Tops is Platte City at 56 percent.  Would it be a worthy goal for Hermann to push its number up an extra 11 percent and be the leader in Missouri for a while?  Knowing how competitive Austin was, it seems like a effort of which he'd approve.

To read more about designating yourself as an organ donor in Missouri, click here.

Importance to me: 


Amanda Witthaus was also an organ donor.

Amanda Witthaus was also an organ donor.  She has helped 50 people as of this time.  So as of this time Ausin and Amanda have helped over 150 people total.  SO please all of you, check your driver's license and sign the back to be an organ donor, or go to your Driver's License Bureau, and they will put a red sticker on the back of your driver's license that signifys you are an organ donor.  Let's all save more lives!

Debbie Vanausdoll (Amanda Witthaus's aunt)

Could be known as "Austin Lee & Amanda Lee's Cause"

I was happy to learn just now (9:45 p.m.) that I am welcome by the family to report at Amanda's funeral tomorrow.  No doubt, Amanda's noble gift will be discussed in Father Bill's homily.

And I am told that Hermannites should keep an eye on the sky some time in the noon hour tomorrow.  A balloon release is planned.  If you watch the Twitter feed at the top of the right column, I will "Tweet" when they think the release is going to happen.  As of yet, the time is not exactly known.

As to the name of this cause, I like "Organ Donation Registry in Memorial to Austin Lee & Amanda Lee."

Organ Donations

Great idea, Jeff. Thanks for bringing this up. Who knows? Anyone could need a spare part at any time. If enough people donate, there just might be a spare part aailable when its really needed.

Steve Schrader