Celebration of Life: Friday, May 31st

The Austin & Parrish family cordially invite you to join them in a celebration of life to honor the life and legacy of Ken Austin on Friday, May 31st. The celebration will commence at 2:30 PM at George Fox University Bauman Hall Auditorium / Stoffer Family Stadium in Newberg, OR. A reception will immediately follow at the Chehalem Cultural Center.


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Parking and Transportation Information

Parking: Guests are encouraged to park in the Le Shana/Wheeler Lot off of E. Fulton St., and the Hoover/Wood-Mar Lot off of N. Meridian St. ADA parking is available in the Bauman/Ross Center Parking Lot. There will be signage and volunteers directing guests to the Stoffer Family Stadium for the Memorial Service. Guests can leave their cars there for both the Memorial Service and Reception. We encourage guests to either walk or take the courtesy shuttles to Chehalem Cultural Center as parking there is limited.

Shuttles: Courtesy shuttles to the Chehalem Cultural Center will be available after the service. They will depart from the stadium lot near the Duke Athletic Center. They will be running in continuous loops between George Fox and Chehalem Cultural Center through the end of the event, approximately 6:15pm.

May 2, 2019

A-dec Mourns Loss of Company Co-Founder Ken Austin

It is with deep sadness that A-dec marks the passing of co-founder George Kenneth Austin, Jr., who died Wednesday, May 1, 2019. He was 87 years old.  

Asked once about his engineering skills, Ken said he preferred to think of himself as an imagineer, or even a simple blacksmith — someone who could shape what he had into whatever the job required.

In the fall of 1964, his greatest need was a job. He had burned through six since leaving the Air Force in 1957 and was once again unemployed; he was a few weeks from his 33rd birthday; he had two young children. But he also had an idea for a device that would make dentistry a little easier. With his wife Joan’s backing — “even if we have to live on bread and beans,” she said — they got to work.

Joan, who died in 2013, took charge of the day-to-day business. Ken did the dreaming, the designing and the building.

By February 1965 they had a couple of employees, an order to fill and space in a 1,000-sqare-foot Quonset hut in Newberg. Joan’s desk, and its recipe box filled with business contacts, sat next to his drafting board. They grew A-dec into the largest privately owned dental manufacturing company in the United States, Newberg’s largest employer and the foundation for a lifetime of philanthropy and community involvement that will be felt throughout Oregon and the world for generations to come.

Ken’s great-grandfather arrived at the pioneer settlement of Butteville in 1859, the same year Oregon earned statehood. In spite of that history, Ken was born on Oct. 29, 1931 in Missoula, Mont., where his father was working. Ken was two years old when his family returned to Oregon and a farm in St. Paul.

“To be a kid growing up on a farm means never being bored,” he said. There were oats to harvest, cows to milk and cans of cream to haul in his wagon. Most importantly, there was always something that needed to be fixed. He loved that.

When he was six, his father helped him melt Mason jar lids to cast an anchor for a toy wooden boat. When he was seven, his father gave him an old washing machine motor to tinker with. A neighbor taught him how thermostats worked, and how to build a windmill.

Ken constructed a small shop and called it “The Boys Club.” In it, he built birdhouses and sharpened knives. When he was 14, he sold the cows he’d raised in 4-H to his father and took the money to buy a car. It needed work, so he bought a welder and other equipment. Before his junior year in high school, he built a bigger shop, “The Rod Shop,” and did custom auto work for $1-an-hour.

He began racing cars, graduated high school and went to Oregon State College (now Oregon State University). In 1952, after losing a chance to be the school’s Yell King, he became its first mascot, designing the original Benny Beaver costume and imbuing him with a mischievous personality.

He met Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) and they married in 1953. In 1954, Ken graduated from OSC with a bachelor’s in industrial administration. He entered the Air Force, where he learned to fly jets and maintain aircraft before being stationed in Korea, and his son Ken III was born. In 1958, he and Joan welcomed a daughter, Loni.

A-dec was the right application of Ken and Joan’s talents at the right time. Sit-down dentistry was coming into fashion, and dentists — not to mention the assistants they were beginning to hire — needed new and better tools. Ken could design them, and he spent countless hours listening to dentists, and then working to make their lives easier.

That little Quonset hut grew to a 50-acre campus populated by more than 1,000 employees producing equipment that fills dental offices in more than 100 countries. A-dec dominates the market share in many of those countries — including the United States.

In 1975, Ken and Joan codified the A-dec Way, a 15-point set of principles that puts “concern for people” first and encourages teamwork, creativity, honesty and public service. This was the backbone for how Ken and Joan viewed the world and operated their enterprises.

He led a partnership between A-dec and Rotary Clubs to create equipment to make dental work easier in difficult parts of the world. Rota-Dent is a portable control unit. More than 80,000 have received care from the TotaChair, a portable dental chair Ken created.

In 1999, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In 2000, Oregon State honored him with its E.B. Lemon Distinguished Alumni Award. He served as a trustee at George Fox University, was a former president of the Oregon 4-H Club, a past chair of the American Dental Trade Association. Ken was named on 40 U.S. patents and another 33 internationally.

His spiritual journey, which began with his early 1980s fight against alcoholism, led to the creation of what’s now the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation treatment center in Newberg. His love for Oregon State University led to the Austin Family Business Program, and Austin Hall, the 100,000-square-foot home of OSU’s College of Business. His and Joan’s love of Newberg will last long into the future through the work of the Austin Family Foundation and the Allison Inn & Spa.

Formed in 2015, the Foundation is focused on supporting education at all levels, and access to addiction and mental health services in Newberg and Yamhill County.

The Allison Inn & Spa was Joan’s vision to support the burgeoning wine tourism industry and put Newberg on the map. It was supported wholeheartedly by Ken, who once joked that she was spending their retirement to build it. It opened on September 25, 2009, Joan’s birthday.

Ken is survived by two children, five grandchildren, their spouses and five great-grandchildren. All of them reside in Newberg and the surrounding area. Son G. Kenneth Austin III is married to Celia Strickland Austin. Daughter Loni Austin Parrish is married to Scott Parrish, the CEO of A-dec. 

Details about a celebration of Ken’s life will be forthcoming.  

Those interested in honoring Ken are encouraged to make a donation to any of the following causes he loved and supported:

Oregon State University Foundation
4238 SW Research Way
Corvallis, OR 97333-106

Special Olympics Oregon
8313 SW Cirrus Dr.
Beaverton, OR 9700

DePaul Treatment Center
Att: Development
PO Box 3007
Portland, OR 97208-300

Pacific NW Truck Museum
PO Box 9087
Brooks, OR 97305