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September 14, 2004

Generosity continues toward Oak Park makeover family

From:, MI - Sep 14, 2004

By Marge Colborn / The Detroit News

ABCs hit series, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, touches people not even remotely connected to the transformation of a house.

William Austin, head of the Starkey Hearing Foundation in Minnesota, for example, was struck by the plight of Oak Park residents Larry and Judy Vardon, whose home was the subject of an episode filmed last month. Both deaf, the Vardons are parents to Stefan, 14, and Lance, 12, who is blind and autistic.

Austin will donate special hearing aids for Larry and Judy, and, for Stefan, Austin will provide a $50,000 college scholarship.

Stefan is the primary interpreter for his family and wrote an extra credit essay for school explaining his familys unique love. The familys small bungalow was chosen for a makeover based on the essay and Judys application; she stood in line for four hours at Fairlane Mall in Dearborn to turn in her application to the shows producers.

Austin, who left medical school in the 1960s to open the Starkey Laboratories, Inc., to focus on helping people hear, pioneered many innovations in the field of hearing.

Now Larry and Judy Vardon will be able to hear Lance, a musical prodigy, play Beethoven and Mozart on the piano. Stefan will be able to attend college without taxing his parents working class pocketbook.

Austin does not manufacture hearing aids so much as he provides an all-encompassing solution to a persons hearing problem.

People do not need a piece of plastic, what they need is someone who can interface with them on a human level and then come up with a hearing solution that is individual, he says.

A tireless advocate for hearing-impaired children, Austin regularly makes missions overseas to personally fit hearing instruments on children in El Salvador, Mexico, Panama and Peru.

Nothing compares to watching a childs reaction when he or she is able to hear for the first time, says Austin, whose celebrity clientele includes Kirk Douglas, Paul Newman and four of the last five U.S. presidents.

Austin donates 20,000 hearing aids annually to children around the world and has received the National Caring Institute Award and the Ellis Island Award for his charitable work.

Marlee Matlin has been a client and friend of Austins for years. The actress is the celebrity guest for the Extreme Makeover episode featuring the Vardons and their home, which is slated to air in October.

You can reach Marge Colborn at (313) 222-2756 or mcolborn@

More information

To find out when the Vardon episode of "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" will air, go to To learn more about the Starkey Hearing Foundation, go to

Copyright © 2004 The Detroit News.