Gentle Giant of the Northwest: Lew Ward (1930-2016)
Son of an oil field driller, pusher, and drilling superintendent, this greathearted Oklahoma wildcatter perceived that his adopted hometown of Enid possessed modest-sized tracts within the Sooner Trend geologic formation of Mississippian Lime overlooked by larger exploration companies. Masterfully utilizing emerging technology as he would his entire career, the young petroleum engineer founded Ward Petroleum and drilled his first of many successful wells in and around the community in 1963.
When Oklahoma’s historic oil boom made drilling rigs and other exploration equipment impossible to secure, Ward bought his own rigs and launched Ward Drilling in 1981. It proved the worst possible timing, as Penn Square Bank soon busted, the oil boom, then real estate tanked, and companies the size of Ward’s and much larger folded.
Bill Ward, Lew’s son and successor as company chairman, described his father’s unusual response to this nightmarish predicament:
“Our bank note for the drilling rigs was millions of dollars, no-recourse, our rigs were the collateral. Dad could have handed them back to the bank and been free as most people did. That was not an easy decision. He chose not to do so.”
Instead, Lew crafted an ingenious, “turnkey” strategy to stay in the game, and do so honorably.
His company managed every facet of the oil and gas exploration process, shouldered more overhead costs than most operators, and reduced the usual risk for investors. Bill remembered the results:
“In 1987 we paid all those rigs off on time. Not many people would have been willing to do that. That was a huge cost to Ward Petroleum and Lew Ward. It was very painful, but Dad had a great moral compass. He had an inherent way of determining the right thing to do. Doing the right thing from a moral perspective was always more important than making money. It built trust, respect, and a good reputation.”
By the 2000s, the constantly-improving technology that Ward so adeptly utilized triggered skyrocketing profit potential—and operating costs. As “family” businesses failed all around them, Lew and Bill Ward mastered the art of private equity financing to fund drilling projects. Entering the 2020s, Ward Energy Partners stood stronger than ever before.
The success of Lew Ward, faithful husband of Myra Ward for more than 60 years, became the good fortune of countless Oklahoma charitable causes large and small. Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, well said:
“From Sherwood Forest to the Far East, from U.S. Presidents to the CEOs of the world’s largest corporations, and from Main Street to section line roads in Oklahoma, Lew Ward has left a lasting legacy in oil, politics, business, philanthropy, and most of all, the people who had the privilege to know this great Oklahoman.”
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.