by: COURTESY OF A-DEC INC. - Joan AustinA-dec Inc. co-founder, philanthropist and longtime Newberg resident and businesswoman Joan Austin died in her sleep early Wednesday morning, according to a company spokesman. She was 81.

Scott Parrish, Austin’s son-in-law and president and chief executive officer of A-dec since March, made the announcement to employees of the Newberg dental equipment manufacturer Wednesday morning.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Joan,” Parrish said. “Aside from Joan’s dedication, breadth of experience, rich insight and business acumen, it’s her enormous capacity to give that will create the greatest void.”

He also reassured employees of the family’s commitment to remain a family-owned business in Newberg, according to the release. The release did not specify the cause of death, but described her passing as “unexpected.”

She was born Joan Zemke on Sept. 25, 1931, in Glenwood, Minn., to Herman and Esther Zemke. The family later moved to Oregon. She graduated from Newberg Union High School in 1948 and holds several honorary degrees and distinguished awards. She met Ken Austin in Newberg and the couple was married in 1953.

Coming from a background in the insurance industry, she founded A-dec Inc. with her husband in October 1964. Today, A-dec is the largest privately owned dental equipment manufacturing company in the United States and employs more than 1,000 people. The company pioneered many innovations used in dental treatment rooms today, including dental chairs, delivery systems and dental lights, and markets its products to dental professionals in more than 100 countries worldwide.

She remained co-owner and co-chairperson of the board and was involved in the company’s administrative, personnel, philanthropic, financial and legal operations up until the time of her death. She also served as president of Austin Industries and Springbrook Properties, and was the vision behind The Allison Inn & Spa.

She was an ardent supporter of education, the arts, youth and government. Newberg’s Joan Austin Elementary School — which occupies land donated by the couple — is named after her. The Austins have also been longtime supporters of Oregon State University, donating several million dollars to create the Austin Family Business Program in 1985 and contributing $10 million toward the construction of Austin Hall, the new home of OSU’s College of Business.

The couple has also donated land and money to other causes and organizations, including the Chehalem Cultural Center, George Fox University and others, and she was instrumental in raising money for the construction of the Providence Newberg Medical Center.

She served as a board member of Oregon Business Council, as a lifetime trustee of the Oregon State University Foundation and as a trustee of Linfield College from 1982 to 2006. In 1992, she became the first woman to serve as chairwoman of the board of directors for Associated Oregon Industries.

A memorial has not yet been announced. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Joan Austin’s memory may be made to any charitable organization.