CLEARWATER — When Brian and Karen Aungst moved to Clearwater nearly 30 years ago from Delaware, they expected an anonymous suburban life as she built their home and he worked in local broadcasting.
But Brian's face became a familiar one as he expanded then-Vision Cable's coverage of high school sports and launched a weekly call-in show with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive captain Mark Robinson.
His platform then led him into community service, raising money for nonprofits and serving on boards of youth and service organizations.
And soon city leaders were asking if he ever considered political office.
"Before I knew it, I was attending meetings and meeting politicians when I never had a political bone in my body," said Brian, 63.
He successfully ran for mayor in 1999 and again in 2001 but Brian said the city, in a way, also elected his wife, who was with him at almost every function and heard residents out at community meetings.
For their joint service to government and community service, the Aungsts were named Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater at the 95th annual meeting of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce last week. It's the organization's highest honor, reserved for recognizing lasting impacts and ongoing service, said Judy Mitchell, chair of the award committee.
"So much of what they've done, they've done together, and they have such depth and range in their involvement," Mitchell said. "They are a team."
Aungst served as mayor during one of the most transformative periods in city history.
A redevelopment plan adopted in 2001 prompted the hotel and resort boom that has made Clearwater Beach an international destination; the city funded new recreation centers and built a long-discussed Main Library; a rebuild of the Causeway bridge upgraded a failing infrastructure; and a new stadium for the Philadelphia Phillies helped elevate the sports tourism industry long chased by the city.
All the while, Karen Aungst, 62, earned the nickname "Mrs. Mayor" for her visibility at city meetings and dedication to charity, like her fundraising for the Morton Plant Mease Foundation and the American Cancer Society while raising their son, Brian Aungst Jr., now 32, a lawyer at the firm of MacFarlane Ferguson & McMullen.
After Aungst was term-limited out of office in 2005, Mitchell said the pair continued to serve the community, helping to bring the Clearwater Super Boat National Championship to the city when a slot opened on the circuit and helping underprivileged children participate in sports through Clearwater for Youth.
But in November, the family realized how full-circle community service can be when Karen Aungst was diagnosed with brain cancer.
After emergency surgery to remove a tumor, Karen said friends they've had for years and near-strangers they've only known peripherally from work in the community have stepped in to serve them.
Every day, it seems, there is a visitor knocking on the door with a home-cooked dinner or a group of friends filling the living room for company.
"We're reminded in a huge way what a compassionate and caring community we live in," Karen said.
The couple's Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater award was a surprise to Karen, who was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment, until they were called to the stage that night. But it was a testament to their legacy in the community being a shared one, Brian said.
"I'm glad the people that make these decisions realize there's no Mr. in this relationship without the Mrs. and I wouldn't have done any of this at all without her," Brian said.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.