Obituary for Earl E. Bakken 10.22.18


Obituary for Earl E. Bakken 10.29.18

Earl and Doris Bakken 2015Earl E. Bakken, 94, of Kiholo Bay, Hawaii, formerly of Fridley, Minnesota, pioneer figure in the field of biomedical engineering, philanthropist, and health care visionary died October 21, 2018, on his beloved Island of Hawaii. Since his retirement, Earl Bakken resided at Kiholo Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii.  He was preceded in death by his parents, Osval and Florence Bakken and his granddaughter Whitney Watson.

Earl Elmer Bakken was born to Florence and Osval Bakken on January 10, 1924, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Earl E. Bakken is survived by his wife, Doris J. Bakken, sister Marjorie Andersen of Avon, IN, children Wendy Watson and husband Warren of New Brighton, MN, Jeff Bakken and wife, Linda Shaw of Orono, MN, Bradley Bakken and wife Mary of Orono, MN, Pamela Petersmeyer and husband Jeff of Prior Lake, MN, step-children Ramona West of Waikoloa, HI, and David Marshall and wife Linda of Rice, MN, eleven grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, and eight step-great-grandchildren.

Earl was educated in the Columbia Heights, MN, public schools. He served four years in the United States Army Signal Corp as a Staff Sargent and Airborne radar instructor until 1946 when he was honorably discharged and enrolled at the University of Minnesota.  After earning a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree in 1948, Earl studied electrical engineering with a minor in mathematics at the University of Minnesota Graduate School.

Earl's GarageIn 1949, Earl Bakken co-founded Medtronic with Palmer J. Hermundslie in a small garage in Northeast Minneapolis. Starting as a repair service for medical electronic equipment at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, the first month’s revenue was eight dollars.  Then, on October 31, 1957, a power outage in the Twin Cities caused the death of a child who was dependent on an AC-operated pacemaker. Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, noted cardiac surgeon, asked Bakken to devise a battery-operated pacemaker to prevent further loss of life, and four weeks later the prototype was in use for the world’s first battery-operated, transistorized, external, wearable pacemaker. This milestone marked the beginning of the biomedical technology industry in Minneapolis and led to the start of long-term pacing for patients around the world.

Bakken was Medtronic’s Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board from its incorporation in 1957 until 1976. He was Senior Chairman of the Board through 1989 and retired from the Board in August 1994.  As Founder and Director Emeritus, Earl remained active in company relationships involving customers and employees, focusing primarily on the company’s mission, which he penned in 1960 and remains unchanged to this day. Medtronic, Inc. operationally headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, is a global leader in medical electronic technology, and as of 2018, employed 86,000 people in 150 countries, with annual revenues of more $30 billion.

In 1975 he founded The Bakken Museum, Minneapolis, MN, a non-profit library, museum, and education center devoted to the history of electricity and magnetism and their uses in medicine and the life sciences. The Bakken’s collection of rare books and antique instruments and devices has grown to be the finest of its kind in the world.  The educational programs of The Bakken are renowned for their integration of hands-on learning, history, and the arts.

Bakken was also instrumental in the founding and operation of The Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, MN, which houses one of the world's finest collections of antique radio, television, and broadcast equipment. The Pavek has gained international recognition for its continuing efforts in preserving and documenting the history of an industry that has made monumental changes in the fabric of modern life.

Throughout his professional career and into retirement, Bakken served on many boards including The Bakken Museum, The Pavek Museum of Broadcasting, Honorary Board of Trustees of the Science Museum of Minnesota, Member of the Visiting Board of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center School of Nursing, and Member Emeritus of the Board of Directors of Medical Alley.

Earl Bakken Award University of Minnesota 2017Bakken’s academic degrees included an M.D. Honorary Causa, University of Minnesota Medical School – the first and only in its history; an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree from the University of Missouri; an Honorary Degree of Humane Letters Degree, University of Hawaii at Hilo; an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Albany College of Pharmacy; an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Tulane University; and an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, University of Minnesota.

His University of Minnesota affiliations included The Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, The Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center, The Visible Heart Research Lab, the PhD and MD Program, the Medical School Dean’s Board of Visitors, the Bakken Chair in Biomedical Engineering, and the Halberg Chronobiology Center.

Culminating his long interest in the mind-body connection and holistic healthcare, he also created a new field of medicine with the founding of the Earl and Doris Bakken Heart-Brain Institute at Cleveland Clinic, which promoted research and education related to heart-brain interactions in order to discover new treatments and cures for cardiovascular and nervous system disorders that treat the patient as a whole.

Earl Bakken AwardsProfessional memberships included Fellow, Bakken Society; Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; Member, National Academy of Engineering; Honorary Fellow, American College of Cardiology; Honorary Fellow, Heart Rhythm Society; Honorary Fellow, Biomedical Engineering Society; and Member, Society of Heart-Brain Medicine.

Distinguished lifetime awards were numerous and included the Minnesota Business Hall of Fame, the Lillehei Heart Institute Lifetime Achievement Award, the University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award, the Minnesota Governor’s Award For Medical Leadership, Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau, The Netherlands, the Russ Prize, National Academy of Engineering, the Mended Hearts Dwight Emary Harken Award, the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Award, the Wall of Discovery at the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Medical Association James H. Suva Memorial Award, the Spirit of the Center Award, University of Minnesota Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, and many others.

The Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Title of Alii Nui Especially meaningful to Bakken were honors he received from the people of Hawaii including the title of Alii Kahuna Laau Lapaau from The Royal Order of Kamehameha I Moku o Kohala, the Title of Alii Nui conferred by Native Hawaiian leaders and teachers, the Kakoo o Kalanianaole Award from the Hawaiian Civic Club for outstanding service to the Hawaiian community from a non-Hawaiian, The Brown Bakken World Health Awards, and the Living Treasure of Hawaii Award, Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.

In retirement, Bakken worked actively to nourish and support a broad range of philanthropic organizations in Minnesota, Hawaii, and the nation. In Hawaii, organizations that support the health, wellness, education, and sustainability of Hawaii Island and its people include North Hawaii Community Hospital, Friends of the Future, The Kohala Center, Five Mountains Hawaii (Kipuka o ke Ola), and Na Kalai Waa (the Makalii Voyaging Canoe). His philanthropic activities, however, widely benefitted the larger island population.

Earl Bakken will be remembered as a humble, hard-working, brilliant, and caring scientist, inventor, visionary, humanitarian, and philanthropist, whose contributions were innumerable and whose lifetime was devoted to helping others. His legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of all those who were inspired by his work, his wisdom, and his example.

A burial ceremony will be attended by family only.  Celebration of Life services will be held in both Minnesota and Hawaii at appropriate times in the future.  Information to follow.


Living on, Dreaming on, and Giving on.


Earl Bakken Bowl of LightIn honor and memory of Earl and his full life of living on and giving on, donations to the following would be appreciated:

The Bakken Museum, The Pavek Museum, The University of Minnesota Foundation (for the Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center and/or the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing), North Hawaii Community Hospital, Friends of the Future, The Kohala Center, Five Mountains Hawaii (Kipuka O Ke Ola), Na Kalai Waa (Makalii Voyaging Canoe), Na Pukii, Inc. - Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Moku O Kohala.

In past years, your generous donations helped these organizations improve their services in so many ways. Mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) for your kindness.


The Bakken MuseumThe Bakken Museum inspires a passion for science and its potential for social good by helping people explore the history and nature of electricity and magnetism.


Pavek Museum of BroadcastingPavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park, MN, shows how pioneers in electronic communications impact the evolution of society. It is home to extensive collections and offers a variety of programs to inspire the young to explore science and communication arts.


Innovation Fellows The University of Minnesota Foundation (for the Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center and/or the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing) The University of Minnesot has renamed two health-focused interdisciplinary centers in honor of Earl E. Bakken in recognition of his support of the University and his field-shaping legacy. They are called the Earl E. Bakken Medical Devices Center and the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing


North Hawai‘i Community HospitalNorth Hawai‘i Community Hospital in Waimea, HI, serves the community with quality, acute care services and the spirit of aloha, in keeping with the original vision of integrative medicine in a healing environment.


Friends of the FutureFriends of the Future works to improve the quality of life in diverse ways for all who call Hawai'i Island home, with projects that include Tutu's House, Earl's Garage, and many more.


The Kohala CenterThe Kohala Center located on Hawaii Island is an independent, non-profit academic institute for research and education in the environmental science, with a focus on energy self-reliance, food self-reliance, and ecosystem health.


Kipuka o ke Ola (KOKO, 501c3 Five Mountains Hawaii)Kipuka o ke Ola (KOKO, 501c3 Five Mountains Hawaii) provides a full range of bio-psycho-social services to the residents of North Hawaii with a special emphasis on addressing the physical and mental health disparities of the Kanaka Maoli (native Hawaiian) population. This mission is our kuleana (profound responsibility).  KOKO provides culturally-informed direct services, actively collaborates with other like-spirited individuals and organizations, and is led by the community it serves.


Na Kalai Wa‘aNa Kalai Wa‘a is an education-based, non-profit organization based on Hawai‘i Island that is dedicated to the maintenance of Hawaiian cultural values and customs through the teaching and application of non-instrument navigation and open-ocean voyaging.


Na Pukii, Inc. - Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Moku O Kohala SealNa Pukii, Inc. - Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Moku O Kohala With a broad-based mission to further cultural education within the Kohala district of Hawaii Island, chapter members serve as stewards of the land, caring for and protecting historic sites. Make checks payable to: Na Pukii, mail to PO Box 2188, Kamuela, HI 96743