Donald Tykeson, a University of Oregon alumnus, UO Foundation trustee emeritus, communications industry pioneer and lifelong philanthropist, died July 12 in Eugene. He was 90.
“The UO has lost an incredible advocate, benefactor and friend in Donald Tykeson,” said University of Oregon President Michael H. Schill. “At just about every UO or community event he attended — and he attended many — Don would greet me with the warmest of smiles and the heartiest of handshakes. He had a thoughtful appreciation for the value of a liberal arts education and a strong devotion to his university. His ideals and generosity will be permanently enshrined in Tykeson Hall and will benefit generations of our students. He will be greatly missed.”
As donors, advocates, leaders and volunteers, Tykeson and his wife Willie, who survives him, sought to improve the UO experience for students and faculty. They established a named professorship in the Charles H. Lundquist College of Business and endowed a fund for innovative undergraduate teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences. Across campus, they supported construction projects, scholarships, athletics and the Oregon Bach Festival.
Their most notable recent donation was a $10 million lead gift in 2014 to establish Tykeson Hall, a new headquarters for the College of Arts and Sciences and a new home for the UO Career Center.
“You’re on this planet to enjoy, contribute, make a difference, lead a fulfilling life and have fun along the way,” Tykeson said when the gift was announced. “I think a liberal arts education helps equip you very well for that.”
In response to Don Tykeson’s generosity, Andrew Marcus, Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences said, “Sometimes you plant a seed and you grow a plant; sometimes you plant a seed and you grow a tree. My sense is that he helped plant a seed and we’re about to grow a forest that’s going to expand and expand.”
During his years of service to the UO, Tykeson served as a trustee emeritus of the UO Foundation board and as a member of the Lundquist College Board of Advisors. He was widely admired for his persistence, graciousness, civility, thoughtfulness and positive perspective.
“I’m a huge fan of Don Tykeson, and deeply saddened,” said Gwen Lillis, who served with him on both boards. “In those settings Don had this terrific ability to just listen, be very quiet, understand the differing viewpoints, and be sharp, on point, to bring us right back into focus. He did that better than anyone. He was a very consistent, involved, and passionate supporter of the UO.”
“We have been blessed to have someone of Don’s generosity and business acumen as an advisor, director, and donor for so many years,” said Paul Weinhold, the UO Foundation’s president and chief executive officer. “He served during a critical time of decreased state support and increased philanthropy, and many of the gains made in our service to the university were a result of Don’s activism.”
Tykeson received the UO Pioneer Award in 2001 and, along with Willie Tykeson, the UO Presidential Medal in 1997. In 2010, he was honored with the Distinguished Service Award.
“Don was a legend,” said Mike Andreasen, UO’s vice president for advancement. “A man of great courage and positive energy. There’s hardly anyone in Eugene or on campus that hasn’t been touched by the family’s generosity — from the beautiful statue sculpted by daughter Ellen that graces the Straub Hall courtyard, to Amy’s volunteerism and to their amazing giving. He had a great passion for education and our campus.”
A native Oregonian, Tykeson was born April 11, 1927, and grew up on his family’s farm near Newberg. He attended a one-room schoolhouse and put himself through college by working on a fishing boat. In 1951, he received a Bachelor of Science in business administration from the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business.
Don Tykeson met his future wife, Willie, on a blind date when they were both UO students in the late 1940s. The couple had three children, Eric, an architect; Ellen, a well-known Eugene sculptor; and Amy, also a Duck, who followed in her father’s footsteps in the communications industry and currently serves as the managing trustee for the Tykeson Family Foundation.
Taking the wise advice of Robert D. Clark, then assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and later the UO’s 11th president, Tykeson focused his career on journalism, first in newspapers and then shifting over to broadcast media. In 1963, through a combination of hard work, an entrepreneurial spirit and keen business sense, he started Eugene-based Liberty Communications, a small television station that would become one of the largest cable television systems in the United States.
A founding director of C-SPAN, he continued to be involved in management and ownership of television, pager and cable companies in Oregon and on the West Coast. He also directed the Tykeson Family Charitable Trust, which funds health care and medical research, education, and art initiatives.
As someone who had lived with multiple sclerosis for most of his life, Tykeson was a strong supporter of MS research, at Oregon Health & Science University and elsewhere. He served on the National MS Society’s board of directors and for 10 years was vice chairman of the society’s western region.
The Oregon Bach Festival dedicated its Saturday, July 15, performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis to Don Tykeson. A memorial service will be held Saturday, July 22, at 2 p.m. in the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Eugene.