By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Joan Austin, A-dec co-founder, dies at 81

OSU Foundation photoJoan Austin and her husband, Ken, shown here in April attending an event at Oregon State University.
OSU Foundation photo
Joan Austin and her husband, Ken, shown here in April attending an event at Oregon State University.
News-Register file photoJoan Austin speaks after receiving an honorary bachelor’s degree from Linfield College in 2004. At the time, it was only the second such degree awarded by the college.
News-Register file photo
Joan Austin speaks after receiving an honorary bachelor’s degree from Linfield College in 2004. At the time, it was only the second such degree awarded by the college.

The Austins founded A-dec in 1964 with a vision that revolutionized the world of dental equipment. The largest privately owned manufacturer of dental equipment in the U.S., it has grown to encompass a global network of customers served by dealers in more than 100 countries.

Along the way, it has become Yamhill County’s largest employer, with more than 1,000 people on its payroll.

Joan (pronounced Jo Ann) remained co-owner and co-chair of the board of A-dec. She was actively involved in its administrative, personnel, philanthropic, financial and legal operations. She also served as president of two family spinoffs, Austin Industries and Springbrook Properties.

The Austins worked in concert with the city of Newberg to develop the Springbrook Master Plan for 450 acres they had acquired over the years near the A-dec campus.

The development was a personal vision of Joan Austin and members of her family to revive the historic Springbrook community. The centerpiece is The Allison Inn & Spa, a world-class hotel serving as a gateway to Oregon Wine Country.

Included in the master plan are quotes from Joan, including, “We’ve dreamed of this for years and years. We’ll give it all we have.”

Her son-in-law, A-dec President and CEO Scott Parrish, announced to the company’s employees Wednesday that A-dec was grieving the loss of a beloved wife, mother, grandmother, business leader and genuine altruist.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Joan,” he said. “Aside from Joan’s dedication, breadth of experience, rich insight and business acumen, it’s her enormous capacity to give that will create the greatest void.” He also reassured staff members of the family’s commitment to remain a family-owned business in Newberg.

Joan also served in leadership capacities at Oregon State University. She spent 26 years on the OSU Foundation Board, including terms as chair and treasurer. She also served on the College of Engineering Technology Campaign Cabinet and 4-H Foundation Board.

Her husband, both of their children, both children’s spouses and a granddaughter are all OSU graduates.

She and Ken were inducted into the OSU College of Business Hall of Fame in 2003. She earned a top OSU Alumni Association honor in 2005 and was named a Lifetime Trustee by the OSU Foundation in 2006.

“Joan was a great lady who had a special way of connecting with people,” said OSU President Ed Ray. “She was a very warm, approachable and engaging person and the Oregon State family will truly miss her.

“Joan and her husband, Ken, have been unbelievable supporters of the university for many years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ken and the entire Austin family.”

J. Michael Goodwin, president and CEO for the OSU Foundation, praised Joan’s ability to translate her personal experience as an entrepreneur and family business owner to other organizations, to the benefit of both the university and foundation.

“She defined leadership, in that when she got behind something, others would follow,” he said. “When you grow a community of philanthropic supporters in this way, you’re putting into motion something very powerful. It was only natural that she was chosen for one of our very first Lifetime Trustee awards.”

The Austins’ support of OSU goes back decades.

In 1985, the school launched the Family Business Program at Joan’s suggestion. It was renamed the Austin Family Business Program in 1994, after Joan and Ken provided it with a generous endowment.

The program has helped family businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest acquire skills to manage day-to-day operations and plan for growth and succession.

In 2002, the Austins gave $4 million in seed money for the Austin Entrepreneurship Program. It was one of the first university programs in the U.S. focusing on incubating startups launched by students.

More recently, the Austins gave the university $10 million toward construction of Austin Hall to house the College of Business. It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.

In April the Austins were on campus to celebrate groundbreaking for the 100,000-square-foot facility.

At the Joan Austin Elementary School in Newberg, a press release was posted on the school website reading: “We mourn the loss of the gracious woman who connected with every Austin Elementary kindergarten student over tea and cookies each school year... the arts patron whose generosity provided field trips to art museums and cultural events to thousands of Newberg students... and the community-minded business woman who helped leverage the donation of property for a yes vote for a major school construction bond.”

In 2011 the Austins were honored by the Oregon Historical Society with its History Maker’s Medal, designed to recognize Oregonians who have helped shape the state’s history and culture.

Joan Austin holds several honorary degrees, including an honorary bachelor’s degree from Linfield College in McMinnville, presented in 2004. At the time, it was only the second honorary bachelor’s degree the college had bestowed.

Joan served on Linfield’s Board of Trustees from 1982 to 2006. When the honor was bestowed, she noted, “My life has been very, very full and very rewarding.”

She was a member of the Oregon Business Council’s board of directors. She became the first woman ever to chair the Associated Oregon Industries board of directors in 1992, and continued as a member after giving up the chair.

The Austins were big supporters of Special Olympics, making a gift that revived the association’s summer games and brought them to Newberg in 2011.

She was born on Sept. 25, 1931, in Glenwood, Minn., to Herman and Esther Zemke. The family moved to Oregon when Joan was a small child.

She graduated from Newberg Union High School in 1948. She met Ken in Newberg and they married in 1953.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by a son, G. Kenneth Austin III; a daughter, Loni Austin Parrish; and five grandchildren. All are residents of Newberg.

The family asks that memorial donations in Joan’s name be made to a charity of choice.

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