You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Matt Curtis sings the praises of the Austin Under 40 Awards

Annual ceremony bestows laurels on local givers and achievers.

In 2005, Matt Curtis attended his first Austin Under 40 Awards ceremony as a nominee.

He thought that the hosts for AU40 — as it is cleverly called — immediately got down to the business of telling the audience about the charitable initiatives of the Young Men’s Business League and the Young Women’s Alliance, the two groups that bestow their laurels on relatively young achievers.

“Once the audience was quickly educated, the event pivoted to celebrating the finalists and the winners of each category,” recalls Curtis, once the spokesman for Mayors Will Wynn and Lee Leffingwell and now senior director of government relations for HomeAway, the online vacation rental service. “I walked away calling it the best event of the year. The education was quick and effective, the celebration of the honorees was eye-opening and thought-provoking, and the whole thing was just fun.”

AU40 returns Saturday to the JW Marriott Hotel to raise money for the Austin Sunshine Camps and the YWA Foundation.

Five finalists compete in each of 16 categories as varied as culinary arts, nonprofit services, social innovation and financial services.

The complete list of winners since 1998, when AU40 was created, is astounding. Many, like Curtis, who took home an award in 2011, went on to greater glories and sometimes complicated after-stories.

The 1998 list included Michael Dell, Lance Armstrong, Paul Carrozza, Richard Garriott, Mike Judge, MariBen Ramsey, Eugene Sepulveda and Rick Treviño. Two years later, future Mayor Wynn nabbed the first Austinite of the Year honor.

Curtis considers Carrozza and Wynn life role models.

“Mayor Wynn helped me — and many people in the city — understand that we had to think differently as we grew, or we would become an unsustainable city,” Curtis says. “He was a dedicated public servant and a very deliberate man who would do what he said and say what he meant. Now, Carrozza helped me understand that to be successfully healthy, you must share that healthy mindset with others.”

At the AU40 ceremony back in 2005, Curtis learned for the first time about many other local achievers and givers.

“As a civically engaged Austinite, I thought I already knew it all,” Curtis remembers. “I quickly learned I didn’t. There were finalists and winners from categories who had excelled in creating community-changing initiatives. There were winners from categories who had worked on issues that, while important to many people, weren’t on my radar. I learned about the needs of people both old and young in every corner of the city.”

That year, Curtis was nominated by someone he didn’t know, which is not unusual.

“Anyone can nominate someone who they believe is deserving of the recognition,” he says. “Once nominated, the process gets pretty grueling; there are a battery of judges from the community who review the applications and reference letters in an attempt to spotlight finalists who have excelled in their professional life as well as through community work.”

In 2011, Curtis followed in his mentor’s path by walking away with Austinite of the Year. After that, he strove to bring more young Austinites under the AU40 tent, and he urged past finalists and winners to stay involved. For two years after his honor, he hosted the awards along with KEYE news anchor Katie Stolp.

“Together, we worked to make the event a fun and memorable night,” he says. “We always wanted the night to focus on the finalists and winners, but we thought there should be a lot of memorable fun in between. It was goofy at times, including a few film parody videos, but we hoped to make the event as funny as it was serious.”

What does he tell young people these days about engaging in the AU40 process?

“Being involved is the greatest way for a young person to advance their relationship with the community,” Curtis says. “Nominees and finalists get to meet Austin’s best and brightest. Everyone is able to learn from the most interesting people in the community who are excelling in their profession and setting new standards for community volunteerism.”

There is no formal connection between AU40 and Leadership Austin, the group that helps train and educate the area’s emerging leaders. Yet some of the names that come up at Leadership Austin’s Best Party Ever — the next one is June 2 at Brazos Hall and honors Cookie Ruiz, Ron Kessler and Lydia Clay — are, not surprisingly, associated with AU40.

“What’s fascinating, however, is that a vast majority of the AU40 folks are not the product of other programs,” Curtis says. “It proves that Austin is generating leaders organically as well as through our successful leadership programs.”

Is there a complementary “Austin Over 40” group? Should there be?

“I’m still trying to hide this fact, but I’m now over 40,” Curtis says with a laugh. “Austin has a lot of groups that honor professional and community volunteer achievement, but nothing that is dedicated specifically to an over-40 crowd. If there was an AO40, I would get involved with it — when I finally admit to being over 40.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Lifestyle

Report: 'Hotbed of anti-Semitism' is not a foreign country. It's U.S. college campuses
Report: 'Hotbed of anti-Semitism' is not a foreign country. It's U.S. college campuses

As violent attacks against Jews worldwide drop to their lowest level in more than 10 years, the United States, particularly college campuses, has been the "hotbed of anti-Semitism," according to a new report. The report by researchers at Tel Aviv University, which covers data from 40 countries, found that violent anti-Semitic incidents, which...
Today’s horoscopes - Sunday, April 30

ARIES (March 21-April 19). You pull things together in the most interesting ways. Your approach to life is fascinating! Of course, not to you. You’re used to it. But someone close to you will be duly impressed. TAURUS (April 20-May 20). The well-known solution is not the one you need to try right now. Your openness to the unconventional will...
See dragon boats race, find fossils, more family fun, April 30-May 6
See dragon boats race, find fossils, more family fun, April 30-May 6

Events Dragon Boat Festival. See the dragon boats race in this 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday. Festival Beach, 2101 Jesse E. Segovia St. “Never Grow Up: A Disney Art Show.” Mondo Gallery presents this show through May 13. Mondo Gallery, 4115 Guadalupe St. MondoTees...
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, April 30
Today’s birthdays - Sunday, April 30

Today’s Birthdays: Actress Cloris Leachman is 91. Actor Burt Young is 77. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden is 71. Movie director Allan Arkush is 69. Actor Perry King is 69. Singer-musician Wayne Kramer is 69. Singer Merrill Osmond is 64. Movie director Jane Campion is 63. Movie director Lars von Trier is 61. Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen...
Dear Abby - Sunday, April 30

Dear Abby: Six years ago, not long after I announced to my family that I was going to be married, my parents decided to divorce because Dad had been cheating on Mom. Because I allowed him to walk me down the aisle, she didn’t attend my wedding. I was extremely hurt by it, but decided to forgive and forget. Unfortunately, my mother could not do...
More Stories