Remembering Michigan alum, computer industry pioneer, and benefactor Richard H. Orenstein

Orenstein, who endowed the Division Chair of Computer Science and Engineering at Michigan, died at the age of 82.
Richard H. Orenstein
Richard H. Orenstein

Richard Orenstein, a Michigan alum, computer industry pioneer, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, passed away at the age of 82 on March 20, 2024. Orenstein was a generous benefactor of the University of Michigan through several gifts including one of $2.5M to endow the Computer Science and Engineering Division Chair.

Orenstein attended the University of Michigan from 1958 – 1962, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. During his studies he discovered a passion for computers, and took all of the (very few) computing courses offered at that time.

After completion of his degree and at the advice of Professor Bernard Galler, Orenstein accepted a position at MIT, where he was a part of the team that developed and implemented the Compatible Time-Sharing System (CTSS) at the MIT Computation Center in 1963. CTSS was created to increase the efficiency of debugging and running large applications, and to make feasible new classes of applications. In 1967, along with others, he founded a time-sharing firm called Computer Software Systems, later renamed National CSS, which was sold in 1979.

After the sale of National CSS, Orenstein endowed a scholarship at Michigan in appreciation for and in memory of his father, Murray Orenstein, who had made his education possible. Orenstein wanted to help others as he had been helped, and made the fellowship available to a qualifying student in EECS.

Five years ago, Orenstein became the executor of his dear friend Daniel Offutt’s estate, and formed the Daniel Offutt Charitable Trust. Through the trust, he made gifts to a number of organizations, including Michigan Engineering. In addition to endowing the CSE Division Chair, Orenstein helped to fund the construction of the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building, and endowed a fund to support CSE lecturers in honor of Toby Teorey Collegiate Lecturer David Chesney. 

“I am honored to hold the position of Richard H. Orenstein Division Chair of Computer Science and Engineering, and to help ensure the continuing legacy of Dick Orenstein in promoting a thriving computer science community at Michigan,” said Michael Wellman, who is also the Lynn A. Conway Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering. “The story of what Dick did with his computing education and his determination to give back is inspiring for all of us.”

Orenstein lived for many years in Westport, Connecticut, where he was active in and Chairman of the Board of Clasp Homes, which operates group homes and provides enrichment opportunities for adults with autism and other developmental or intellectual disabilities. He continued volunteering after later moving to Sarasota, Florida. An avid pilot, Orenstein was involved in the Angel Flight program, which provides free flights to patients and veterans needing lifesaving medical appointments. 

“Dick had a great combination of kindness, generosity, and curiosity,” said David Chesney. “His kindness showed in the ways that he spent his time helping other people. His generosity was clearly demonstrated by his many philanthropic gifts, both to U-M and other recipients. He was directly involved in my courses for a number of years, and was always curious about the new technology and approaches that the students were using to assist those with disabilities, and often gave valued feedback to the student groups. He was a friend and he will be missed.”

Community; David Chesney; Division News; Michael Wellman