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Former newsman also mentor, believer

Austen Schauer has been mentoring Nathaniel Neece since the young man was 2 years old. Special to Forum News Service1 / 3
Roxane Salonen2 / 3
Jim Shaw (right) worked with Austen Schauer for roughly 33 years in various roles, first as reporters together at WDAY, and eventually, news directors at KVRR. Special to Forum News Service3 / 3

FARGO — Many in the Red River Valley connect Austen Schauer with the former television reporter and anchor who, for three decades, gave them their dose of daily, local news.

But few know the interior of the veteran media man — that he grew up a preacher's kid in California, found Christ at age 9 and as a teen, discovered a passion to mentor youth.

"I've always been actively involved in the church and in ministry to kids — that's always been my heart," Schauer says.

The mentoring began at age 16, in inner-city Sacramento, where Schauer coached youngsters.

"It's a beautiful feeling when you're wanted as a child by someone other than a parent," he says. "That's why mentoring is life-changing. I look at grandparents and think, 'My goodness, the opportunity for having an impact on a child, for getting them moving in the right direction, can be huge.'"

His mentees would agree.

When Miro Vukomanovic came to Fargo in 1998, at age 11, he'd been displaced once already, from Bosnia, having lived in Germany for a time after fleeing his war-torn homeland. He and Schauer met at Calvary Baptist Church, and a bond quickly formed.

"When you have foreign parents, they don't always understand you," Vukomanovic says. "They didn't go through what you're going through."

Schauer helped him turn from playing class clown to being better anchored, he says, preparing him for his current life at age 30 as a husband and father.

And when Vukomanovic endured a cancer scare recently, Schauer came through. "You could tell he was concerned, but he reminded me that prayer is like a medicine, and if you leave it in God's hands, he'll take care of you," Vukomanovic says.

Nathaniel Neece entered Schauer's life at age 2 when his mother, a single parent, showed up with him at church.

"I grew up with Austen providing that fatherly figure, playing catch with me, buying me a new pair of shoes for sports," he says.

When Neece, now 20, graduated from high school, Schauer threw him a party.

"Hundreds of people showed up, and he was cooking all the food with his wife," he says. At the end, Schauer handed him the title for his car. "It was really awesome, a hugely defining moment for me. And he was proud of me, too, which felt good," Neece says.

Now in the North Dakota Army National Guard, Neece aspires to live his life driven by faith, due to Schauer's example.

"Austen is a really kind, down-to-earth guy, but he doesn't beat around the bush," Neece says. "If you're wrong, he'll tell you, but in a nice way. He's always there for you, no matter how many times you've messed up."

Jim Shaw worked with Schauer for roughly 33 years in various roles, first as reporters together at WDAY, and eventually, news directors at KVRR.

"He's very close to my family; he was even in my wedding," Shaw says.

The two, he adds, have "the longest-running practical joke gig that I know of." It began, fittingly, in the newsroom around 30 years ago with an assignment neither wanted to do — and a manual related to the piece neither wanted to possess.

"I put (the book) on Austen's desk so he would do it, he put it on mine, then I put it on his chair ... we both got out of the story that day," Shaw chuckles.

Ever since, the book has been showing up in the most unexpected of places, often through behind-the-scenes work of family, friends and even willing strangers.

Though the two share different faiths — Shaw being Jewish, and Schauer, an Evangelical Christian — a mutual respect and caring defines their friendship.

"I look at the character of a person," Shaw says, remarking that Austen's strong faith is "one of his great things."

"It's good for us to have people of different faiths to be around," Schauer says. "We've been through a lot together ... and I have a deep admiration for Jim. He's very loyal."

Following his news years, Schauer worked in community relations at Park Christian School and recently, in staffing and job recruitment.

At 60, he finds enrichment through family, including his wife, Angie, three children and nine grandchildren, and tending to his soul — a journey that he says has become richer through times of darkness.

"Understanding what Christ did for us through the sacrifice he made by that incredible act of love, and extending that love and grace through the work of the Holy Spirit — that's really my focus now," he says.

Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email roxanebsalonen@gmail.com.

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