Ken Austin, OSU’s First Benny Beaver, Returns to the Homecoming Parade
When Ken Austin was chosen to be Oregon State College’s first Benny Beaver in the spring of 1952, his budget was less than $100, and he had no costume and no notion of what a student mascot would do at a football game. After all, at the time, only two other Pac-8 schools — Cal and Stanford — had live student mascots, and Austin had never attended their games.
So he took his meager funds to a costumer in Portland, who fashioned him a tail and a head made out of papier-máché, and covered both in brown shag carpeting. He drew inspiration from the clowns at the St. Paul Rodeo near Newberg, Ore., where he grew up. And then he performed.
“I had to create my own ideas,” Austin says, “I was having fun. And I think the crowd was having fun, too.”
During Beaver football games, Austin went wherever the action was. He once climbed onto the goalpost to taunt an approaching Stanford offensive line — until the referee threatened to hit the Beavers with a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Austin encouraged the Tail Flappers — the men’s cheering section — to be louder, and got the Beavers’ crowds to laugh.
According to Austin, today’s Beaver fans are even more vocal and involved than when he was Benny. “Student participation is great. It’s a much louder and stronger voice than we had,” he says. “Everything was so much more reserved in the 50s.”
Austin’s dedication to OSU hasn’t changed, though. At 77, he is returning this
year to serve as the marshal of OSU’s annual homecoming
parade, which takes place at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 1. “I’m loyal to
Oregon State,” he says. “I came back because they asked if I would.”
As a student, Austin loved participating in Oregon State’s homecoming traditions, namely the bonfire and the noise parade. His ambition, he says, was to build the loudest float in the parade, and he usually succeeded. In his first year, he borrowed Newberg’s air raid siren and hitched it to a trailer. The following year, he built a cannon, which he and his fraternity brothers from Delta Tau Delta shot off during the parade.
Austin graduated in 1954 with a degree in industrial administration and later founded the prominent dental equipment company A-dec with his wife, Joan. The two were the force behind the Austin Family Business Program as well as the Austin Entrepreneurship Program. A major gift helped renovate Weatherford Hall, where
entrepreneurship students live. Both Ken and Joan were inducted into the College of Business Hall of Fame in 2003.
“I don’t know how to be grateful enough to Oregon State for allowing me to follow my passions,” Austin says. “That’s why we supported the entrepreneurial program at Weatherford Hall. We wanted to see other students follow their passions, too.”
Benny Beaver photo courtesy OSU Archives; P017:0032