Frank Theall: From Humble Beginnings, A Geologist is Made
by Sarah F. Hill
On campus for nearly the first time since he graduated, Frank Theall is amazed. A college population of 12,000 in 1961 has swelled to a mighty 40,000. Buildings and green spaces abound. The energy is young and vibrant — just what Theall had hoped the University that gave him a second chance at education and his first chance at a rewarding career.
After graduating from St. Thomas High School in Houston at the age of sixteen, Frank Theall decided against pursuing a liberal arts degree in the inaugural class of the University of St. Thomas after one semester — he just didn't feel he was ready for the collegiate experience. Instead, he put on a suit and tie and marched down to the hiring offices of the Humble Oil & Refining Company. Never did he dream that he would eventually become one of the company's most valued geologists.
He began work in February 1948 at the age of 17. Theall went from working as a hall attendant, or a glorified receptionist, to being an attendant in the draftsman room, or the "map room." He had ample opportunity to meet with geologists and mingle with the higher-ups in the company.
DRAFTSMAN TO GEOLOGIST
He diligently worked his way into a career as a draftsman, a stint that lasted for 13 years including the two years (1951-1953) in which he served in the U.S. Army as a military policeman. He still was “bumping elbows,” so to speak, with many geologists, and this piqued his interest in the field further. In the spring of 1954, under the GI Bill, Theall enrolled in the University of Houston. He had been out of high school for six years by this time, and since he hadn’t taken any college prep courses in natural sciences during high school, he was allowed to take non-credit courses in science and math, which got him up to speed for the degree he wished to pursue in geology. Laborious but rewarding, his seven-and-a-half year journey took him from draftsman to geologist, attending classes at night. And with the GI Bill footing the bill, he maintains, “I couldn’t afford NOT to finish!”
He met his wife, Rose Marie, in 1950 while she was a student at St. Agnes Academy. They were married on Aug. 4, 1951, two months after she graduated from high school. She moved to San Antonio to be with her husband, and their only child, Dwight, was born at an Army hospital, Brook Army Medical Center, in 1952. While Theall worked and went to school at night, Rose Marie was instrumental in raising Dwight. “She made sure dinner was on the table every night before I went to class,” reminisces Theall. ‘Rose Marie was a big part of ‘Team Theall.’”
Theall remembers UH Frontier Fiestas that he missed, due to trips out in the field. “Instead of partying, we were in the field working — describing rocks!" he says. But he never once minded putting his education and work first, for his family or for himself. The former hall attendant was now honing his expertise and making a name for himself in subsurface mapping. In 1966, he transferred to the production department, and for the remainder of his career he was involved in conducting detailed geologic and engineering studies of many of the more complicated ExxonMobil oil and gas fields of south Louisiana and southeast Texas. These studies resulted in several field extensions and one new field and added significantly to the ExxonMobil reserve base. For 31 of his 44 years at the company, Theall worked as a Reserve and Exploitation geologist. The last 15 years were spent as a Geological Advisor, mentoring less experienced geologists, engineers, and supervisors.
A GIFT TO THE NEXT GENERATION
When his grandchildren graduated from college, they all did so debt-free. Theall thought about all the students who would have crippling debt, and he felt he needed to make a difference. The main reason for making a gift to UH was simple: “I see kids these days with $25,000 or $50,000 worth of debt from school. I want to help UH students so that this isn’t the case. I want students to graduate debt-free and be able to start their careers, like my grandchildren have been able to.”
After being married 60 years, one wonders if there are any words to describe the insurmountable loss of a spouse who truly was one’s soul mate. “Sixty years,” says Theall, “wasn’t long enough with Rose Marie.” What better way to memorialize his beloved wife than a scholarship in her honor? Rose Marie was a huge proponent of higher education and recognized how much it had helped her family. He originally was going to call his Tier One Scholarship the Frank and Rose Marie Theall UH Tier One Scholarship Endowment, but at the last moment, he asked it be put in Rose Marie’s name alone. He had so many wonderful memories of Rose Marie — their cabin in Colorado that she would love to visit and entertain friends in, the European tour of 11 countries in 1982, plus the numerous other exciting cruises and trips taken before and after his retirement. Now he had one more fond memory to create, and that was of his wife contributing to the careers of young people at the University of Houston.
A MATCHING OPPORTUNITY
ExxonMobil took good care of Theall during his productive and distinguished career. The Tier One matching program with UH was a huge incentive. By giving $7,500, Theall’s support was matched by a 3:1 gift by ExxonMobil and a 1:1 match by the University, making the grand total of his contribution $60,000. Theall is excited to attend an upcoming Tier One Scholarship Dinner and to meet some of the students who may be benefitting from his thoughtful gift. He also recently became a Life Member, with a $1,000 one-time gift.
TENACITY OF CHARACTER
If one word could describe the man who went from hall attendant to a supervisory role for his geologist peers, it would be “tenacious.” He never took “no” for an answer and always continued to pursue his dreams, even if that meant incrementally going to school over a seven and a half year period. “I’ve always kept at something until I’ve got it done,” laughs Theall. And his touching tribute to the wife who saw him through every struggle is a reminder that every one of us can give back in ways that are meaningful to us. UH gave Frank Theall a wonderful career path and for that he is most thankful. What better way to give back than to help future scholars in their pursuit of education?