Jim Auxer: A quiet leader
When Professor Harold Goldberg wrote D Day in the Pacific, critics said he gave us one of the best accounts of the Battle of Saipan ever.
D Day in the Pacific sites acts of bravery so profound it’s hard to believe they’re non-fiction. One such recount was about a very young marine, one Arthur James Auxer Jr.
Auxer was stationed on a ship in the Pacific near Pearl Harbor. The documented incident took place after the Dec. 6 attack. One night, for no explicable reason a fire broke out onboard and spread wildly and with deadly speed. Auxer plunged into the Pacific again and again to rescue brothers who had jumped to extinguish flames already eating away at their bodies. Auxer was recognized as a hero for his selflessness and would go on to receive many decorations for meritorious service during World War II. To this day, no one is more proud of this marine than is the Mayor of Shepherdstown Arthur James Auxer III. .
Jim Auxer grew up in Harrisburg, Pa. He was the older of Ruth and Arthur’s two sons. Little brother Jeffery completed the family where life was good. “My parents were always supportive of my brother and me. We had a wonderful childhood.” When Arthur Jr. died he left his family with great memories, but Ruth, at age 84, just retired from teaching in the school her son’s attended: Central Dolphin High School. Jim starred on the football field at Central Dolphin. He didn’t say he starred for he’s a modest man but he was captain and all-state defense, so “starring” was a good guess. “My parents saw all our games. My friends loved them and still go to see my mom.” Jim’s high school buddies don’t just make a pass-by at Ruth Auxer’s either. They mow the lawn and shovel the snow, because. “My mom is the nicest and best person I know.”
The Auxers got involved in scouting where Jim was a Life Scout: Order of the Arrow and he remembers camping and trips to Dewey Beach, Del. And loving it. To this day a family trip to Dewey Beach is summer tradition.
It was the 1960s and college wasn’t something that was a given for a lot of high school grads. The cost of college was beyond the reach of many, unless they came looking for you. Jim Auxer was the first in his family to go to college. He had been noticed on the football field and several colleges were interested but when it came time to choose, he chose Shepherd College.
The recruiting network that came into play included Roscoe Warner, coach at Harrisburg Susquehanna who spent summers coaching training camp at Shepherd and Jesse Riggleman, Roscoe’s good friend and Central Dolphin Coach. Jesse showed Roscoe game film, a dazzled Roscoe reports back to Shepherd and the rest is history. Now at Shepherd College football was big, the school could pick and choose. Shepherd wanted Jim Auxer. The lad loved football but he also loved history, and Shepherdstown was a great recruiting tool. Jim realized that Shepherdstown would feed his love of history. “If only these old homes could talk.”
Jim played for the Rams for four years, lettering four times and was chosen all-conference two years running. He pledged Tau Kappa Epsilon, managed Sara Cree, made lifelong friends and got good grades.
“My parents enjoyed my college education almost as much as I did. They became involved, enjoyed my friends and my friends families. My father loved watching me play ball.” Today, Jim gives Shepherd College credit for helping him build the foundation for his life. In 1969 he graduated with a BA in History and Elementary Education (with an emphasis on Physical Education).
His first job out was at Sully Elementary in Sterling, Va., teaching 4th grade. He was also the football coach at Broadrun High School where he worked with Shepherd alumni: Lynn Carr and Ronnie Pyles. From there he became a graduate assistant at Shippensburg University in the Rowland Lab for MED counseling and discovered his passion and talent as a counselor. “I liked to listen and help to resolve issues.”
In 1972 Jim finally got an opportunity to work in the major league of tough cases when he became a counselor at Camp Hill State Prison in Harrisburg.
He soon headed up the mental health unit. He also volunteered at Catholic Social Services and provided counseling for unwed mothers. Eventually he had responsibility for 250 inmates and 70 officers at Camp Hill. Jim does not minimize this experience, nor does he exaggerate. He just tells it like it was. There was a riot in 1989 though that he wouldn’t discuss. He said “It’s not like you see on TV.” Miraculously, this well-documented riot resulted in no deaths despite the three-day hostage situation and $250 million in damages.
The 80s had brought all kinds of change for Jim Auxer. One fine day, Dawn Fye, an eye-catching resident in the Harrisburg neighborhood was out renovating her home. “I think Dawn was hoping I offer to do the work for her,” Jim laughed. “I didn’t … but I did lend her some tools and took her out for dinner.” Apparently dinner went well and Jim and Dawn were married in 1986. Five years later, Dawn, with a Masters Degree in industrial psychology and a prestigious career in government, decided to give it up for the world of the stay at home Mom and she’s never looked back.
Joselyn Auxer was born in 1991 and by this time the Auxer’s had bought a home on New Street in Shepherdstown. “We were looking for a place where we felt most comfortable.”
Eighteen years later, the Auxer home, now with kittens Chief and Teke, is still that wonderful place on New Street. There was a time when Jim owned a horse stable and showed jumpers: Bernie and Airport. Though Jim has had little time to ride lately, Bernie at 28 is still around, just not in the New Street house.
The fair Joselyn is in Jefferson High School Class of 2010. And because she’s a JHS champion swimmer (She holds records for the butterfly and had the best time in the area last year.), swims with FAST (Frederick Area Swim Team) and is an AP scholar to boot, Joselyn’s been fielding calls from some big name colleges in New England. Jim finds it difficult to even think about her leaving and said wistfully as most parents do at this time. “I taught her how to ride her bike.” Then “My wife and daughter are wonderful. I’m very proud of what Joselyn has done. Butit was Dawn who drove her to practice at the crack of dawn and to swim meets around the state every weekend. I’m very proud of Joselyn and I’m very proud of her mother. We’re a close family.”
Back to 1999 – After 28 years at Camp Hill State Prison, Jim decided it was time to go and joined the staff of Eastern Regional Jail as Vice President of Prime Care. Jim usually works on holidays and today is no exception. “Dawn, Joselyn and I will open gifts and celebrate a little in the morning and then I’ll go to work.” Why does the boss work holidays? “When you lead you have to be willing to show your people you’re willing to do what they have to do.” As for the real need to be there”These men need counseling at Christmas more than any other time. They’ve messed up their lives and they’re locked-up. They need to talk and have someone listen. That’s what I do. I provide counseling, solve problems and help the jail run better. I do what I can.”
In 2000 Jim Auxer decided to run for mayor of Shepherdstown. “NO, I didn’t expect to win,” he laughed. “No one thought I was going to win.” Well he did win and began immediately working on Shepherdstown infrastructure. “Infrastructure is my thing.” First the septic system hook-up for the East End that had been promised in 1980 was completed and then the sewer plant started, then another election and another mayor. Not to be discouraged, and “There was still a lot of work to do” Jim ran again, and in 2007 he won again.
You have to be in hibernation not to notice the changes that have taken place since Jim came to office two years ago. Changes for the better. He gives credit to the Town Council. He has nothing but praise for Meredith Wait, president of the SBA, and Dr. Suzanne Shipley for willingly and regularly sitting down with him to bring Shepherd University, the business community and the town government all under one tent for the betterment of Shepherdstown. “It’s the only way to learn and rectify situations.” And “Yes it looks like there’s going to be a Shepherd parking garage.”
The Mayor arrives at Town Hall at 6:30 a.m. on weekday mornings. And hour later he’s at the Wellness Center which he calls “A great recruiting tool for Shepherd.” He’s out on the street by 8:45 and on any given day is listening to townsfolk who stop him to talk. He’s back in the office from 9:30 to noon taking care of business and then he goes to work … at Eastern Regional. He supports town events, school events, and goes to ALL Rams football games. He’s the recipient of awards and honors such as 2009 SU Alumni of the Year and takes it all in with humility.
Jim Auxer is an interesting guy. At first glance he’s a bear of a man, serious and a little gruff. But then you listen to his soft spoken way with a rational explanation or you sit in a single issue Town Hall meeting and watch him listen intently and respectfully to anyone who has something to say, and a different picture emerges. Here is a gentle man, one who feels so deeply about this town that he’s willing to make the tough decisions, take ultimate responsibility, and then step up for the adherent slings and arrows. Here is a picture of a true leader.
Proving once again … the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.
– Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.