By editorial board • 

Ken Austin leaves a long legacy of achieving, giving

The world can never have enough community-building giants like Ken Austin, a heralded inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist lost to us last week at the age of 87.

An only child, Austin was born in Missoula, Montana. However, the family moved to a farm on the fringes of Newberg two years later, and Newberg remained his life-long anchor.

He was a graduate of Newberg High School and Oregon State University, both of which he repaid many times over. He and his wife, Joan, who preceded him in death in 2013, also developed, founded, funded or inspired myriad other programs and projects, several of which bear their names.

After earning an engineering degree from OSU, he served in the Air Force. A stint with a dental supply company planted the seed for a revolutionary air-powered dental vacuum.

From that sprang Newberg-based A-dec. It’s short for Austin Dental Equipment Company, the world’s largest producer and distributor of dental equipment. In addition to anchoring the Newberg economy, the 1,200-employee company provided the Austins with the means to fund their generosity.

In addition to A-dec, fruits of the family legacy include Joan Austin Elementary School, OSU’s Austin Hall and Austin Family Business Program, Newberg’s Allison Inn & Spa, the sprawling Springbrook development surrounding the inn, and the Hazelden/Betty Ford alcoholism treatment network.

Endlessly inventive, Austin eventually came to hold 40 U.S. patents and 33 international patents. He and his wife embraced the philosophy behind their legacy of achieving and sharing in American Dreamers, published, fittingly, by the OSU Press.

One of Austin’s early college-days endeavors was serving as OSU’s original Benny the Beaver. And it embodied the spirit that drove him throughout life.

He was relentlessly committed to facing challenges directly. In the process, he made his town, school, state, nation and world all better places.


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