Bakken Estate continues gifts $100K to West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery

  • A couple reflects at the Veterans Day and Armistice 100th Commemoration last year at West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)

  • Dr. Earl Bakken, pictured here in 2013, enjoyed a healthy and vital lifestyle in Hawaii. He also donated to numerous causes around the island. (COURTESY PHOTO BY SARAH ANDERSON)

KAILUA-KONA — The West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery Association received a generous donation from the estate of Dr. Earl Bakken earlier this month.

Don Zero, West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery Association treasurer, said the philanthropist, who died last October, bequeathed the organization $100,000.

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“The West Hawaii Veterans Cemetery extends a sincere and heartfelt thanks to Dr. Earl Bakken for the thoughtful generous gift from his estate,” Zero said.

This is not the first time Bakken — inventor of the battery-operated pacemaker and World War II veteran — has supported the cemetery, the final resting place for about 650 veterans and family members.

In 2015, thieves stole a small electric water pump with a metal pressurized tank, a red Honda four-stroke weed trimmer and a slew of other assorted tools and equipment worth over $20,000.

Zero said they were holding a fundraiser at the Kona Elks Club in an attempt to fund the purchase of items that were stolen when Bakken presented a check to cover the entire amount.

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 $8.

Then, on Oct. 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, a 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.

The 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, according to the company’s website.

Bakken retired to West Hawaii in 1989 and contributed greatly to the betterment of the community. He was instrumental in developing and supporting North Hawaii Community Hospital as a center of holistic medicine, combining east and western medicine.

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He also supported Friends of the Future, The Kohala Center, Five Mountains Hawaii (Kipuka o ke Ola), and Na Kalai Waa (the Makalii Voyaging Canoe).

“We will make that money go a long way,” said Zero. “The money will be used for continuing operations of our hero’s last home.”

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