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One of Oregon State University’s most visionary and active volunteer leaders, Joan D. Austin made a permanent impact at OSU, leaders said June 5 in the wake of her overnight passing at age 81.
Co-founder of dental equipment maker A-dec, Inc., with her husband, Ken, Mrs. Austin was known throughout Oregon as a pioneering leader and compassionate philanthropist.
"Joan was a great lady who had a special way of connecting with people," said Edward J. Ray, Oregon State University President. "She was a very warm, approachable, and engaging person, and the Oregon State family will truly miss her. Joan and Ken have been unbelievable supporters of the university for many years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ken and the entire Austin family."
In the 1980s Mrs. Austin initiated conversations with College of Business about improving its service to the business community by addressing issues faced by family-owned businesses. Offering seed money along with the idea, the Austins hosted the first seminar at the corporate offices of their own family business, A-dec. They later made a gift to endow the program, which was renamed the Austin Family Business Program. For nearly three decades it has helped family businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest acquire the skills to manage day-to-day operations and plan for growth and succession.
In 2002, another significant investment from the Austins helped create the Austin Entrepreneurship Program, making Oregon State one of the first universities in the nation to establish a residential learning program focused on starting up, incubating, and spinning off companies founded by students. The Austins’ gift leveraged state bond funding to renovate aging Weatherford Hall and transform it into a modern living-learning facility. The residential element offers students the chance to pursue their business ventures "24/7" – an experience most entrepreneurs say is a key to early success.
More recently the Austins made a $10 million lead gift that allowed the college to launch an initiative to build a new $50 million facility, to be named Austin Hall. In April they were honored guests at a celebration marking the official beginning of construction, and in May they also participated in the college’s annual Celebration of Excellence and Alumni and Business Partner Awards, at which in 2003 they were inducted into the College of Business Hall of Fame.
"At both events, it was obvious how much Joan cared for the college and the work that we do," said Ilene Kleinsorge, Dean and Sara Hart Kimball Chair. "She was truly one of the most dedicated and generous supporters of our college and the university."
Austin Hall will open in fall 2014, providing needed space for OSU’s growing business programs and supporting 21st century business education and research in a global economy. The 100,000-square-foot facility will include 10 classrooms, a 250-seat auditorium, a Career Success Center, an MBA suite, a research lab, collaborative team rooms, more than 70 faculty offices, staff and program offices, a café, and event space.
In addition to the College of Business, Ken and Joan Austin have also supported programs in the College of Engineering, the Alumni Association, Athletics, and 4-H, among others. In 2006, after 26 years on the OSU Foundation Board of Trustees, she was one of the first two people chosen as Lifetime Trustees. The previous year she was the first recipient of the Honorary Alumni Award from the OSU Alumni Association, presented in gratitude for all she did for the university.
Among other Oregon State awards, in 2012 the Austins received the Martin Chaves Lifetime Achievement Award from OSU Athletics, recognizing their longstanding support.
Ken Austin graduated from OSU in 1953. The Austins’ daughter and son – Loni Parrish, ’81, and Ken Austin III, ’76 – and their spouses – Scott Parrish, ’81, and Celia Strickland Austin, ’76, an OSU Foundation Trustee – are also highly engaged members of the OSU community.