MU sophomore seized every opportunity

Austin Baumbach passed away Jan. 20.
COURTESY OF THE BAUMBACH FAMILY Sophomore Austin Baumbach, shown in his senior portrait with his service dog, Mufasa, died Jan. 20 from complications of muscular dystrophy. A fisheries and wildlife major, Baumbach enjoyed deer hunting, fishing and riding motorcycles. Courtesy of the Baumbach Family

When Robin Baumbach of Jefferson City planned her son's funeral, she knew he would want an MU theme.

On Jan. 20, Robin Baumbach's son, sophomore Austin Baumbach, died at age 20 from congestive heart failure, a complication from muscular dystrophy.

Mr. Baumbach loved MU, his mother said.

Robin Baumbach didn't want flowers to top the casket. Rather, she covered it with an MU throw and a stuffed tiger. After the service, she organized the release of black and gold balloons.

Mr. Baumbach was also an avid lover of motorcycles and car races. A family from Joplin donated a Fat Boy gas tank as an urn for Mr. Baumbach's ashes.

Robin Baumbach was amazed at the amount of people who attended the funeral service.

"There was standing room only," she said. "There were people from high school, even a friend who came from Kentucky just for the funeral."

Mr. Baumbach's teachers told Robin Baumbach "he's one of those students you don't forget." They said it was because he always had a positive attitude despite his disability.

Students at MU might remember Mr. Baumbach by the service dog that always accompanied him, a golden Labrador named Mufasa.

Janice Faaborg, Mr. Baumbach's academic adviser at the department of Fisheries and Wildlife, said she remembers him always being with his dog.

"The dog was more of a companion than anything," she said.

Mr. Baumbach received Mufasa in 2004, and the dog helped him with everyday activities, from riding an elevator to picking up a dropped remote.

Mufasa has also helped Mr. Baumbach when he was in dangerous situations. Robin Baumbach remembered an occasion when her son's wheelchair was stuck by a creek. Mufasa helped to get a driver's attention who in turn helped Mr. Baumbach.

"He thought his wheelchair was a four-wheel drive," Robin Baumbach said. "He'd take it anywhere."

Robin Baumbach said her son always wanted to be outside.

Game wardens from the Missouri Department of Conservation used to take Mr. Baumbich hunting.

He shot and killed a small deer on his first hunting trip with them. His mother said he was slightly disappointed when he saw the deer up close.

"It looked bigger in the scope," he said.

People joked with Mr. Baumbich, saying, "You shot Bambi."

Mr. Baumbach also enjoyed fishing.

"He liked all kinds of fishing," his mother said. "He was definitely an animal lover and nature lover."

As the muscular dystrophy progressed, however, Mr. Baumbach began to fish for catfish because they are less physically demanding to catch.

Last semester, he began his sophomore year at MU, but was in and out of the hospital. Eventually, he was put on hospice.

"He fought it until the end," Robin Baumbach said. "There were a lot of things he wanted to do."

Robin Baumbach is just glad her son was able to have the college experience.

"Austin was born in Columbia, and it was like his life came full circle," she said. "It was tough. It was hell but it was worth it."

Mr. Baumbach is survived by his brother Tyler, his father Keith, his mother Robin and her partner Rodney Walden.

People can sign Mr. Baumbach's guest book at the Freeman Mortuary Web site until the last week of February. Donations are being accepted for Kansas Specialty Dog Service, a Washington, Kan.-based organization that provides service dogs like Mufasa free of charge.

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