Belief in engineering


Bob Aiken ‘52 was a mechanical engineer with the heart and vision of a philanthropist. Before his passing this week, he and his wife Brenda endowed a legacy that will span generations.

This story is adapted from The Daily

Alumnus Robert “Bob” Aiken, who last year committed $20 million with his wife, Brenda, to support the university’s biomedical engineering efforts, died Monday November 12 at his home west of Philadelphia. He was 88.

“Our hearts go out to Brenda and the entire Aiken family during this difficult time,” University President Barbara R. Snyder said. “Bob was a warm and wise man who appreciated innovation for the ways it could help people reclaim parts of themselves lost to illness or injury. We are grateful for his support, insight and—most of all—recognition of the power of learning and discovery to transform lives.”

A 1952 mechanical engineering graduate of Case Institute of Technology, Aiken credited his professional success to his alma mater—both because of the excellent education his academic program provided, and also the social skills his fraternity allowed him to develop. The experiences made such an impact, in fact, that Bob started telling Brenda about his affection for the institution soon after they began dating.

Decades later, the couple began supporting student scholarships and research on Case Quad. The Aikens were members of the Case Dean’s Society, which honors leadership level gifts, for more than 20 years.

In 2005, they established the Robert M. and Brenda A. Aiken Scholarship Fund, which helps juniors and seniors majoring in biomedical engineering.

The Aikens had become passionate believers in the power of biomedical engineering to find healthcare solutions and improve lives. Bob Aiken explained his motivation to Case Alumnus in 2007:

“My wife was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 12 years ago, and today she’s just doing great. But I went back in my mind to 1952, and I could see the advantage of combining mechanical engineering and medicine,” he told the magazine. “I tried to establish the fund for students who want to be mechanical engineers but want to partner, which I’m big on from my business experience, to try to combine the two professions to come out with solutions to problems that will advance the field and reduce suffering.”

In 2013, he was given the Meritorious Service Award by the Case Alumni Association. Soon after, the Aikens decided to fund a major, multi-faceted strategic initiative fund for biomedical engineering. The fund included student assistance but it also backed research endeavors that could lead to meaningful progress for patients.

“As saddened as we are by Bob’s passing, we are heartened to know that his spirit will live on in the accomplishments that the generosity that he and his wife, Brenda, have shown to the Department of Biomedical Engineering,” said Robert Kirsch, chair of the department. “By funding scholarships, research and collaborations among engineers and clinicians, their philanthropy will touch the lives of students, faculty and the patients that their work ultimately benefits.”

Bob Aiken’s desire to help people to live full lives no doubt reflected his own passions.

A high school athlete, Aiken turned down an opportunity to play for a farm team of the Philadelphia Phillies to attend Case—a decision he never regretted. After graduation, he went to work for E.I duPont de Nemours and Co. as a mechanical engineer. Aiken spent his entire career with DuPont, with the exception of one opportune tour in the Navy.

In 1955, he enrolled in Officer’s Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. As a young lieutenant, he was stationed in Naples, Italy. There, he met a Naval captain’s daughter, Brenda Jean Ashton. Less than five months later, they were married. Bob and Brenda were married for 61 years. After his retirement from DuPont, they travelled the world together, enjoyed the company of their four granddaughters, and tended to their historic home, Linden Farm.

President Snyder announced the Aikens’ $20 million gift in the fall of 2017. While health concerns kept Bob and Brenda from being able to attend, the two did share their thoughts about the gift in a video prepared for the event. (View it here: https://youtu.be/0kzubxxM5l0)

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, at the McCrery & Harra Funeral Home in West Chester, PA. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial gifts be made to the Aiken Strategic Initiative at Case Western Reserve c/o CWRU, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland OH 44106.