Don Tykeson of Eugene, a pioneer in Oregon’s broadcasting industry who amassed a fortune and then spent his later years giving much of it away, died Wednesday of multiple sclerosis and age-related causes. He was 90.
Tykeson, along with his wife, “Willie,” was a major donor to the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Oregon Health & Science University, Sacred Heart Medical Center, Lane Community College and other organizations.
“He was big-hearted man who was committed to making a difference,” said Amy Tykeson, Tykeson’s daughter and former CEO of BendBroadband. “He understood that we had a short time on this earth, and it was incumbent on us to step up and do what we can. People would often ask him for help, and he would say, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’”
Don Tykeson bought Bend Cable in 1983 after selling his Eugene-based company, Liberty Communications, for $186 million.
Bend Cable, which Tykeson changed to BendBroadband, grew into a regional player in cable television and broadband internet that also owned a data center and two TV stations, KBNZ and KOHD.
Tykeson, who had a home in Black Butte, bought Bend Cable because he wanted to improve the service in Central Oregon, said Amy Tykeson, who took over as CEO of BendBroadband in 1997. That year BendBroadband became the first cable system in Oregon to offer cable internet, Amy Tykeson said. “It was being introduced around the country in large markets. He was very supportive and eager to make that available to our customers. So we pressed ahead with making those investments in Central Oregon.”
The Tykesons sold BendBroadband in 2014 to Telephone and Data Systems for $261 million.
Don Tykeson stayed involved in business and philanthropy until the end of his life, said Becky Johnson, OSU-Cascades vice president.
Don and Amy Tykeson visited her in 2010 and asked how they could support OSU-Cascades, she said.
“I’m pretty sure I hadn’t reached out to them.
“They’re just super-supportive of education in general,” she said.
The Tykeson family’s first gift to OSU-Cascades was $250,000 to create the campus’ first endowed chair, the Tykeson Faculty Scholar Endowment Fund in Energy Systems Engineering. The family also made two $1-million gifts for the construction of new academic buildings on the Cascades campus, Tykeson Hall and Academic Building II.
“He was very interested in promoting the well-being of the community, especially education and health,” said Ellen Tykeson of Eugene, one of his daughters.
Ellen and Amy Tykeson estimated that their father gave away tens of millions of dollars to organizations involved in education, science, health and the arts.
In 2014, the Tykesons gave the UO $10 million to help construct a $34 million building, also to be named Tykeson Hall, to house the College of Arts and Sciences administration, the Career Center and assorted classrooms.
Higher education was of special interest to Tykeson because a degree had made such a difference in his life and career, Amy Tykeson said. Don Tykeson’s mother was a teacher in a one-room school house, and he was determined to get a university degree. He paid for it by talking his way into a job as a cook on an Alaskan fishing boat, she said. “He was very compelling. He was a very good negotiator,” she said.
Construction of the building is expected to start in November.
Tykeson, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 30, did not let the disease deter him from his goals, his daughters said. He exercised on a treadmill and “was very dedicated to swimming” and a low-fat diet, Ellen Tykeson said.
One of his major financial gifts led to the OHSU Multiple Sclerosis Center.
Tykeson was a scratch golfer who helped with the design of a golf cart for people who have difficulty walking. He also collaborated with the designers of a three-wheel electric cart to make it more user-friendly, Ellen Tykeson said.
Tykeson, a founding director of C-Span, grew up on a farm near Newberg.
He attended the University of Oregon, where he majored in business.
He met Rilda Steigleder, also a UO student, on a blind date. They were married in 1950.
After graduating in 1951, Tykeson took the advice of an advertising executive and went to work in the classified department of the (Portland) Oregon Journal.
He eventually got a job as an advertising salesman at the world’s first commercial UHF television station — KPTV in Portland — where he stayed for 10 years and became sales manager.
In 1963, Tykeson invested $30,000 — all of his savings — to acquire a minority interest in Liberty Communications, which owned KEZI.
In a 2008 Register-Guard interview, Tykeson said he made the station profitable in three months.
Tykeson always had an entrepreneurial bent, but the multiple sclerosis fueled his ambition, Amy Tykeson said. “He was very keen on figuring out how he could provide for the family,” she said. “He didn’t know how long he had.”
Liberty started acquiring other TV stations and cable systems in Oregon. In 1972, Liberty bought the cable subsidiary of GTE Communications and became a national player, Tykeson said in the interview.
By 1983, when Liberty was sold, the Eugene-based firm owned television stations in multiple states and had become one of the top 20 cable operators in the nation.
Eugene’s Chambers family — the original majority owner of Liberty — bought back KEZI as part of the deal with Tele-Communications, while Tykeson bought Bend Cable from Liberty.
Tykeson became a managing partner of Tykeson Associates/Enterprises and led the Tykeson Family Charitable Trust.
Tykeson is survived by his wife, daughters and a son, Eric Tykeson of Westlake Village, California, six grandchildren and one great grandchild.
— Kathleen McLaughlin of The Bulletin contributed to this report.