As many as 1,000 people are expected at on Saturday to pay tribute to computer-pioneer Ken Olsen in the only public memorial service honoring his life.
Olsen, who served as a college trustee, was founder and former CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. He died on Feb. 6, two weeks short of his 85th birthday. Not long afterward, a memorial service was scheduled at Gordon College for May 14.
The service at A.J. Gordon Chapel and a reception at the Ken Olsen Science Center will be the only public memorial service to honor Olsen. His family asked that the public service be held at the college because of “his love and connection to Gordon College," according to Dan Tymann, Gordon College's Vice president for Admissions, Student Financial Services and Technology.
Olsen found Gordon to be somewhere where science, engineering and his Christian faith came together, Tymann said.
Tymann got to know Olsen during his past six years at Gordon College. He attended the family service in Indianapolis after Olsen’s death in February.
“I felt very honored to be there,” he said.
But Saturday’s service is open to all. Tymann said the college is expecting between 800 and 1,000 attendees.
A significant numbers of the attendees will be former Digital Equipment Corp. employees, including some from overseas. Olsen founded DEC - a highly successful computer maker - in Maynard in 1957 and it grew to become one of the largest employers in Massachusetts and at one point employed more than 125,000 people worldwide.
“Ken Olsen is like the Thomas Edison of computers," Tymann said.
Based on the RSVPs received, attendees will come from Australia, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Switzerland, as well as from all across the United States.
“He was so beloved by people at all levels,” Tymann said.
Tymann said he has also been wowed by all the memorial messages that have been flowing in.
“When I die, if I have one person say something like this about me, I will have lived a complete life,” he said.
Olsen’s relationship with Gordon College began when he attended Park Street Church in Boston while as a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned undergraduate and graduate degrees.
At the time, Pastor Harold Ockengay was also the president of Gordon College. Olsen would come north to Gordon College and fell in love with the campus and the school and was later asked to serve on the Board of Trustees.
Olsen’s prominence of campus was elevated even further in 2006 when the new science center was emblazoned with his name. Tymann said Olsen was reticent to have the center named after him, but agree knowing the exposure and attention it would give Gordon.
“It has brought a lot of attention to the college,” Tymann said.
Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp. founder and chairman, was invited to the center’s groundbreaking and, while he did not attend, sent a letter calling Olsen a “true pioneer in engineering" and recalling his own use of a Digital computer while growing up.
When the science center was completed in 2008, Olsen’s archives were donated to the college.
Besides the science center, Olsen was a “major contributor” to many other building projects at the college, Tymann said.
The important role that technology plays in the education of Gordon College students today can largely be attributed to Olsen, Tymann said, adding his connection to the college has helped bring increased credibility to its science program.
“It’s that culture he brought here,” Tymann said.
The memorial, which is open to the public, begins at 3:30 p.m. in the A.J. Gordon Chapel. A reception will follow at the Ken Olsen Science Center.