WRO Staff / Tuesday, May 7 @ 7 a.m. / Obits

OBITUARY: Holly O’Konski Austin, 1950-2024

Holly O’Konski Austin crossed the threshold between this world and another on Sunday, February 18, 2024. She passed in the comfort of her own bed, surrounded by concentric circles of her favorite things: those she loved most at her bedside; the hewn timbers and long angled light of the yurt she called home; a thousand thousand stems, leaves and petals provided by the flowering, fruiting and herbaceous plants she nurtured; and a dense forest formed by the memories and dreams of a lady well-loved and a life well-lived.

Holly Ann O’Konski was born in Oakland on February 4, 1950, beloved first child of A. Holly Hollingsworth and Chester T. O’Konski. Her early years were spent in Lafayette and Orinda in the San Francisco East Bay Area. She attended UCSD for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, maintaining a close friendship with her mother and inheriting from her a love of domestic and European travel. After graduate school she applied an open-ended experimentation to many aspects of her life, becoming vegetarian and roaming freely ‘round her home state in her Corvaire named Maybelline.

One such sojourn in the late 1970s led Holly and ~10 others to the banks of the Stanislaus River, where while basking in the high Sierra sun for a multi-day camp out, she met a man named Neal Austin. They found a wealth of aligned interests & convergent values, and soon their branching futures began to align as they became great friends and ultimately partners in all that life offered them.

Holly ended her peripatetic days when she planted herself with Neal in a landscape of surrealist beauty where the Smith River skirts the edge of the Siskiyou range. Before they could blink, Holly was pregnant, and Neal scrambled to finish constructing the round house of Douglas fir heartwood and braided steel cable he dreamed into being JUST as their son, Jay Sterling Austin joined them on the banks of the Smith River’s South Fork in 1984.

Holly’s defining passion for uplifting self-expression and supporting creativity found dual outlets in the late 1980s: on the one hand, Holly raised her son free from the rigid imperatives of traditional America; on the other, her new role as Executive Director of the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness allowed her to celebrate all the arts. After a decade at the helm, DNACA had more than doubled down on its program count, extending art as therapeutic practice to Pelican Bay inmates via Arts in Corrections; art as self-actualization for schoolchildren via Arts in Education; and music as treatment for trauma and PTSD via Art for Veterans.

In both her professional years and the retirement which followed, Holly traveled: with her mother A. Holly to Ireland and beyond; with her husband Neal to Collioure in the South of France, Norway, as well as Spain, France, Italy and other beautiful locales on cruises around the Western Mediterranean; with the Chorale she joined in retirement to Poland, Germany and Austria; and with her son to Paris and Barcelona, Mexico City then all across Portugal and western Spain. These travels were what fed her soul, kept her mobile as she aged and brought her everlasting joy.

After holding Sarcoma (a rare and invasive soft-tissue cancer) at bay for almost a decade, Holly succumbed in the evening on February 18, 2024. She is survived by her loving husband Neal Jay and son Jay Sterling Austin; and by her brothers and their families: Tim and Susan Meade with their children Alex, Patrick and Cedar O’Konski; Mark and Jody with their son Sam O’Konski, and Brian O’Konski.

A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, May 11th, 2024 from 1-3pm in the UMC Community Room at 755 7th St, Crescent City. More information about the Celebration, as well as link to Donate to the Sarcoma Foundation of America in celebration of Holly can be found at linktr.ee/HollyOAustin


The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Holly Austin's loved onesThe Wild Rivers Outpost runs obituaries of Del Norte County residents at no charge. See guidelines here. Email news@lostcoastoutpost.com.


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