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A Car Connection                                                                                                                  

By Sara Gilbert Frederick
The Mankato Free Press

“They said, ‘It looks like she’s met her match',” Darla says with a laugh.

They were right. In May, Darla and Lynn, who were originally set up because they both drove Camaros, will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary. A few months later, they’ll celebrate another anniversary — 30 years of owning a business, Austin Auto Repair Center, together. Although Darla’s responsibilities are limited to bookkeeping and greeting customers, she’s become quite comfortable in the typically male-dominated setting of car repair during the past decades.

“It took some getting used to,” she admits. “I had worked at 3M, where there were a lot of other women around and we had a lot of good camaraderie. To be with all men was a little bit different mindset, but it’s gotten a lot easier.”

To be around cars and car talk, however, wasn’t an adjustment for her at all.

“My dad and brothers were very into cars, so I just grew up in that atmosphere,” she says. “It just became second nature to me, so it was never something that I was scared of. But of course, I don’t do anything with the cars — I can talk the talk, but I can’t walk the walk.”

During the early years of the running the business, Darla always held another job and handled the shop’s bookwork at night. It was an exhausting existence, especially after their first child, a son named Christopher, was born in 1980. “I was commuting to 3M in New Ulm for my job, then coming home and doing the books,” she says. “It was nuts.”

Within a year of Christopher’s birth, Austin had quit her job at 3M to took a part-time job closer to home. But before their daughter Danielle was born in 1984, she had given that up as well and was working full-time at the shop.

Joining Lynn at the shop helped Darla understand the business — and her husband — better. She remembers being upset when Lynn was late for dinner because he was still working on a car. She had grown up on a farm, and her father was always able to be able at the table for dinner. She wanted the same for her own family and was frustrated when Lynn occasionally had to work late.

“It was easier when I knew the customer attached to the car he was working on,” she says. “I could put a face to it. That was better than just thinking that he was going to be late again.”

Although the kids are both grown and out of the house now (Christoher and his family, including Austin’s first granddaughter, live right next door), Darla and Lynn still try to have dinner together whenever possible. Sometimes it’s the only time they spend together all day.

But the good news is, they still want to spend time together.

“Working with your spouse can be a ‘kill-or-cure’ situation for your marriage,” Darla admits. “Thankfully, we’ve just grown closer and stronger over the past 30 years.”