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She lost her son to asthma in 2013. Now she's helping his classmates go to college

Sandra Griffin with a photo of her late son Austin, who would have graduated from Millsap High School this spring. She has kept his memory alive with a scholarship drive funded by pie sales at the family restaurant, Brazos River Catfish Cafe.
Sandra Griffin with a photo of her late son Austin, who would have graduated from Millsap High School this spring. She has kept his memory alive with a scholarship drive funded by pie sales at the family restaurant, Brazos River Catfish Cafe. Special to the Star-Telegram

With every pie she makes, Sandra Griffin thinks of her late son Austin.

Austin would be graduating Millsap High School soon. He died of asthma complications in the summer of 2013 while away at church camp.

But while she can only imagine Austin walking across the stage to receive his diploma, his legacy lives on in the help she provides graduating students.

Sandra began a scholarship fund in Austin's honor the year after his death. The money comes from pie sales in the family restaurant, Brazos River Catfish Cafe.

"When Austin was little he used to help me bake," Sandra recalled. "He had a tutor, and if he got his work done, he could help me bake.

"I feel a little closer to him when I bake."

This year, to commemorate what would have been his senior year, she offered any Millsap senior who applied — 44 in all — a scholarship to help them attend college.

She also awarded four scholarships to Brock graduates (Austin spent his first six years in school in Brock before transferring to Millsap), along with one to a Lipan senior who was a friend of Austin's.

"I think he'd be really excited. He's helping his friends," Sandra said. "He never met a stranger. He could carry on a conversation with anybody. He was just like his daddy."

Her husband, James, died this past year from a heart attack. Sandra said he, like Austin, continues to live through the restaurant's popularity and the work being done for graduating seniors.

The scholarships range from $500 to $3,000, depending on how much money is raised.

Along with the sales, folks donate to the cause.

"I have people who come in and donate every week. It makes you happy and sad all at the same time," Sandra said.

'Keeping a part of Austin alive'

"She knew if she put a scholarship out there, she's keeping a part of Austin alive," said Anita Presser, a Millsap senior and one of Austin's best friends. "I remember us going to band competition together. He was so inclusive of everyone. He played clarinet and I played flute.

"If I could speak to him, I'd tell him I love him and I wish he hadn't left so soon."

Taylor Wood, also a Millsap senior, met Austin in the sixth grade at vacation Bible school. They immediately became best friends, along with teammates on the junior high football team.

"I think this scholarship is a great thing. (His mom) gets to continue his legacy," he said. "Even though he's not here, he's helping a lot of kids like myself get to college.

"I remember us going down to the river and riding four-wheelers. Austin was a really cool guy."

Anita plans to use her scholarship to help her become a special-needs teacher. Taylor is set to study criminal justice.

'Gift of love'

"Mrs. Griffin has gone to extreme lengths to give to MISD students through daily sacrifice," Millsap Superintendent Deann Lee said. "Her gift of love reminds us every day of Austin, who will forever be one of our beloved Bulldogs."

Albert Leggett has worked at the restaurant 15 years and is the kitchen manager. He remembers Austin running into the kitchen even while in kindergarten.

"He used to come in and get my rolls. He said I made the perfect rolls," Leggett said with a chuckle. "I remember James always told him to never cross the road (from their home to the restaurant) without an adult, so Austin would go down and walk under the bridge to get to the other side.

"Sandra is such a strong person," he added. "She's got the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met in my life. What she's doing is changing the lives of so many young people."

Rosie Fierro has also worked at the restaurant for 15 years. She fought back tears as she remembered Austin one recent day.

"He loved to come in the back door and scare us," she recalled. "His mom would wait for him at the gate to get off the bus. It didn't matter how old he got, he'd hold his mom's hand in his and they'd walk to the restaurant."

Sandra said she still gets calls and texts from Austin's friends regularly.

"They don't know how much that means to me — and James," she said. "As long as I can bake pies and people want to eat them, I'm going to do this. I've already started on next year's."

Steve Glassinger was going to turn on his sprinkler at night when he stepped on two copperheads that bit him on the foot. His advice, "keep your boots on and always look."

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