Ken Austin left behind many legacies when he died Wednesday at age 87.
With his wife, Joan, he co-founded A-dec, a Newberg-based dental supply company that employs more than 1,000 people.
Together, the pair are also the namesakes for Oregon State University’s Austin Hall, which they helped fund.
And he was also OSU’s first Benny the Beaver.
OSU President Ed Ray, who has been at OSU since 2003, said he met Austin when he first came to the university.
“He’s really one of the titans of his generation,” said Ray.
He said his legacy includes building A-dec from nothing.
“He joked that he had and lost six jobs, so at 33 he realized the only way he could stay employed was starting his own business,” Ray said.
Ray said at OSU, Austin’s grades sometimes suffered because he was too busy tinkering to focus on school.
“From his earliest days he was a tinkerer," he said. "He liked making things with his hands.”
Ray said while at OSU Austin had tried out for Yell King, but after failing to earn that title, he made a Beaver costume out of old carpet, thus creating OSU’s mascot for the first time.
Ray said that Austin's Benny was a bit of a scamp: climbing goal posts during football games and shooting penalty flags referees threw against the Beavers with a starting pistol (which didn’t fire bullets).
“It was all in good fun,” Ray said.
Ray added that Austin was a goodhearted person and a friend.
“I view him as a mentor and a role model and I will miss him very dearly,” he said.
Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society (and the co-author of Austin’s autobiography, “American Dreamers,” said Austin’s intelligence was a significant part of his legacy:
“Ken literally transformed the entire dental equipment industry with his inventions. He is named on 40 U.S. patents, and an additional 33 patents in other countries,” Tymchuk wrote in an email.
Tymchuck said Ken and Joan’s philanthropy, which focused on OSU and Newburg, was another major legacy.
“There are few Oregonians who made such a profound difference on their industry, their community, their alma mater, and their state,” Tymchuck wrote.
Bret Baker, president of Austin Industries, the holding company through which the Austin family owns their businesses, said he knew Austin for about a decade.
He said Austin was an immensely kind person, and everything he did stemmed from that.
“A-dec sells equipment all over the world," he added. "Millions of people got better dental care because of him.”
Baker added that Ken and Joan Austin’s giving went beyond OSU: they also contributed to Oregon Health & Science University, George Fox University and the Oregon Symphony.
“They were very strategic about their philanthropy,” he said. “They didn’t just write checks, they were very involved with the organizations.”
Baker said as a titan of industry in Oregon, Austin could be intimidating for people who’d never met him, but he was a kind person once you met him.
“He was a wonderful person. It was not an accident he was successful,” he said.
Baker added that Austin was a modest person, with one exception:
“He said, ‘the one thing I will always brag about is being the original Benny the Beaver.’ He was not shy about that.”