On November 30, 1998 the
Kansas Oil Industry and geological profession lost one of those rare individuals
who was admired and liked by all and acknowledged to be one of the "true
gentlemen" of the industry. As Gus Messinger stated "Don was a man
in the oil industry of whom I have never heard any disparaging remarks."
Perhaps some of the thoughts of those who knew Don well can be summed up
by the phrase, he was a "class act."
Don was a native Kansan. After
arriving in Wichita in April 1920 he spent all of his childhood in Wichita
and received his advanced education there. He was very proud of the
fact that although his mother was an immigrant with her parents from Germany,
and his father was an immigrant from Austria there intent from the beginning
was to be American. German was never spoken in their home.
Don Smith refers to his friend as
being "generous but frugal." Perhaps this was derived from his background
or from "working his way through college" which was a necessity for Don.
He worked at a service station and at Cessna Aircraft while enrolled at
Wichita University from 1938-42 and 1948-49. During the interim period
he was employed by several companies, but most particularly Schlumberger
in several localities including Oklahoma City, Shawnee, and Wichita.
He returned to Wichita and found employment with Sohio where he was supervised
and influenced by K.T. Woodman. Don thought he taught him a lot about
"how to find oil."
In 1942 Don married Gwen Dodson
and they had two daughters. Karen Wright and Kathy Probst both of
whom reside in Wichita. Don was a family man as Gus Messinger writes
"he always thought about his family. When you visited him at his
office, he would proudly show you some little gift or candy that someone
in his family had given him."
At Wichita University Don and Don
Hoy Smith were part of a group of geology students later to achieve success
in their profession. These men include Bill Jacques, Warren Tomlinson,
Leroy Riley, Ed Hutchinson, Wayne Walcher, Bob Armstrong, Ed Rehn, Tromer
Smith, Elmo Kelly, Bob Gensch, Ray Goodin, Jim Morris, E.K. Edminston,
Bob Watchous, and others. After graduation in 1949, Don continued
with Sohio and later joined Bay Petroleum. When Bay merged with Tenneco
he remained with the new company. He was stationed for a period of
time in North Texas.
The year 1958 saw the formation
of Hellar Drilling in conjunction with Pierce Musgrove. The company
operated two drilling rigs until they were sold in 1973. As Don Smith
comments, "these were highly competitive times in the drilling business
and oil prices were low, but Don made a go of it." Gus indicates
that this competitiveness carried over into card games and bowling "where
Don hated to lose."
Don was an "oil finder" who might
discuss some of the low times, but as Gus puts it "never boasted about
his success as a petroleum geologist. Although his discoveries were
many, he was very humble about his abilities."
He was also a professional, serving
on several committees of the Kansas Geological Society, He joined the American
Association of Petroleum Geologists, and in 1951 became an emeritus member.
He has also been an active member of the Society of Independent Professional
An amusing comment on Don comes
from Don Smith. "Although Don undoubtedly could have afforded to
eat each day at the Petroleum Club, he seemed to prefer to eat with a small
group of older geologists at the Linoleum Club as we refer to the cafeteria
on the mezzanine of what was then the Nations Bank Building."
Don will be greatly missed by his
colleagues and host of friends in the oil industry. A memorial has
been established with the Endowment Fund, Department of Geology, Wichita