The UO remembers longtime supporter Willie Tykeson, 90

Don and Willie Tykeson

As the university community celebrates completion of Willie and Donald Tykeson Hall, a new landmark created to support a next-generation approach to student success, it also mourns the passing of one of the building’s namesakes.

Willie Tykeson died Thursday, Oct. 10, at age 90.

Rilda (Willie) Margaret Steigleder was born in Oregon City. She attended the UO in the late 1940s, where she met Don Tykeson, who graduated in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. They married in 1950.

As Don Tykeson achieved increasing business success in the communications industry, the couple channeled tens of millions of dollars into philanthropic giving that has benefited Oregon communities in countless ways. The Tykesons, both as a private couple and through their family foundation, dedicated their giving to education, health care and the arts. The UO has been a special beneficiary of their generosity, for both its mission and the personal history it represents.

“My parents met on a blind date at the UO,” said daughter Amy Tykeson, a double Duck who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the university and who is currently the managing trustee of the Tykeson Family Foundation and former CEO of BendBroadband.

In the College of Arts and Sciences, the Tykesons created a named position for the dean and funded an endowment for innovative undergraduate teaching. The Lundquist College of Business, intercollegiate athletics, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art and Oregon Bach Festival also are grateful recipients of the couple’s generosity.

Willie and Don, who died in 2017, received the UO Presidential Medal in 1997.

“The UO has lost a dear and devoted friend,” said President Michael H. Schill. “Willie’s belief in the value of education, and the concept of student achievement, was tremendously inspiring. We are blessed that her memory will live on for generations in the success of students who pass through the doors of Tykeson Hall.”

Willie Tykeson also loved Duck athletics. Attending UO basketball games in her later years gave her great comfort and, in her words, "made life so much more enjoyable."

The couple’s $10 million lead gift was the driving force that made the $34 million Tykeson Hall possible. It opened in September.

“We explored the new building with Willie and her family right after it opened,” said Andrew Marcus, who was instrumental in Tykeson Hall’s conception and development while serving as the first Tykeson Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“While there, we shared cookies from Amy’s Corner café (named for Amy Frohnmayer), played musical notes on the interactive art installation, went out on the third-floor Slape Terrace to look at views, and, mostly, spent lots of time visiting the many advising and teaching spaces,” Marcus said. “It was moving to see how delighted Willie was with the building and what it will accomplish for many generations of students. She was extremely proud of Tykeson Hall and eagerly anticipated its opening.”

Her family shared the excitement each step of the way.

“This concept for student success captivated them,” Amy Tykeson said in a UO story published in 2017.

Her parents were impressed with the idea of a building that centered on programs to prepare the next generation for a rapidly changing world, one designed to help them adapt to the evolving needs of the workplace through a liberal arts education.

“Liberal arts education provides the framework for supporting youth in a world that is changing so fast,” Amy Tykeson said. “By exposing students to wide-ranging subjects and helping them hone their collaboration and communication skills, students are better positioned to think about the world in broader ways.”

Willie Tykeson is survived by daughters Amy and Ellen, another double Duck who serves as vice president of the leadership council at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum Art; a son, Eric Tykeson; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A celebration of life will be held at the Eugene Country Club at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 1. 

By Melody Ward Leslie, University Communications