The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Ken Austin Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna and Chris Petersen.

March 24, 2015


“From Cows to Cars to Cavities: The Legacy of an Influential Beaver”  March 24, 2015  Location: Austin Industries, Newberg, Oregon.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Austin discusses his family background and upbringing in Newberg, Oregon, community life during World War II, his early interest in machinery, and his memories of opening a small business, "The Rod Shop," while in high school.

From there Austin details his undergraduate experience at Oregon State College. He recounts his decision to attend OSC, campus traditions of the time, pledging a fraternity and various fraternity pranks, including "kidnapping" the Sweethearts of Sigma Chi. Austin also discusses his academic ups and downs, and recalls an influential professor who helped him to find direction while in college.

Austin next shares his memories of becoming the first Benny Beaver mascot, noting the process by which it came to pass, his construction of the first Benny costume, and his various antics as OSC's mascot, which included climbing football goalposts and shooting blanks out of a starter's pistol. Austin likewise details his activities as a member of Air Force ROTC.

Life after college is the next theme of the interview, with Austin describing his meeting and courting Joan Zemke, his years of service in the Air Force, and his and Joan's experience of starting a family. Austin then reflects on his military discharge and the period of holding eight jobs in eight years that followed. He also describes how the last of these jobs, at Densco dental supply company, spurred in him the idea of founding his own competing company, A-dec.

The growth of A-dec is a major topic of the session, with primary attention paid to important innovations and product lines that enabled the practice of sit-down dentistry and that fueled the rapid success of A-dec. Austin then recounts the roots of his family's philanthropic outreach, including early support for Head Start and the Newberg Fire Department.

As it nears its conclusion, the interview focuses on the Austins' financial support for numerous endeavors at OSU, including in athletics and the College of Business. In this, Austin describes the founding of the Austin Family Business Program, the Austin Entrepreneurship Program, and the renovation of Weatherford Hall. He likewise discusses the funding, design and construction of a new facility for the College of Business, Austin Hall.

The session ends with Austin's thoughts on the impact that Oregon State has made on his life and his words of advice to students of today.