June 8, 1947, was graduation day at Marietta College, and among those seniors walking the stage was Denzil Prather, a former United States Army Air Corps pilot and 26-year old family man.
The diploma handed to him that day was unlike any other that had ever been passed on to a graduating student at the College. It read “Bachelor of Science in Petroleum,” making Prather the first graduate of Marietta’s now renowned petroleum engineering program.
At a time when the College’s annual theme is focused on Energy & Environment, it’s a fitting time to take a look at Marietta’s first graduate of the petroleum program.
In Legacy Library’s Special Collections department, a file of documents details Prather’s legacy—from press releases from the college in the 1950s and newspaper articles throughout his life, to a rather long obituary following his death.
Prather, born in 1921 in Elizabeth, W.Va., originally began college at Potomac State School of West Virginia University with the intention of becoming a journalist. After completing nearly two years of journalism courses, he was drafted for the war. Three years, 30 missions, two gun-downs, and numerous decorations later, Prather was honorably discharged from the Army and reentered college, this time at Marietta.
Described in an undated and unauthored press release as “a soft-spoken, slender youth,” Prather completed the required 144 credits over the next two years. Less than five months after graduating, Prather was placed in charge of oil properties worth $400,000. His peers contributed immediate success to his “previous training in the oil business, plenty of ability, firsthand knowledge of the area in which he [was] working, and lots of hard work.”
The director of the Petroleum program at the time was Mr. C.C. Hogg. Hogg recommended Prather for his first position working with these properties. Hogg and several other local industry leaders comprised the Weva Oil Company, of which Prather would later become a partner. Less than a year after Prather’s graduation, Hogg said: “I suggested Prather because the properties are near his home, and he knew the area. Also, I was proud of the work he did in school, and I felt he could handle the matter.”
Prather, who worked during the “oil boom days when wildcatting was a way of life,” dedicated his life to the oil industry. He worked in the oil fields in Texas, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio. After partnering for the Weva Oil Company, he then worked for Southwestern Development Company from 1953 until 1980, followed by his own company Loper & Prather that was recognized in U.S. News and World Report as one of the leading consulting firms in the country. Prather’s success continued into his ownership of Adena Petroleum Inc. and another partnership in PREN-CO, the Prather-Ruddock Energy Company.
Prather retired in 1995. Outside of his career, he spent his time with his wife, Madeline, their six children, 15 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. He was also actively involved in the Belpre, Ohio, community, participating with the school board and local government, as well as his church. Prather passed away in 2005, leaving his legacy on the oil industry as a true pioneer.
Before Prather walked the commencement stage, the founders of the Edwy R. Brown Department of Petroleum Engineering and Geology consulted the industry leaders of the 1940s for input regarding what they sought from the program. They requested, “Give us individuals trained in petroleum but upon a broad background of a liberal arts foundation.”
Now, nearly 65 years after Prather’s time at Marietta, the petroleum engineering program thrives more than ever.
The department at Marietta is the only petroleum engineering program at a small, liberal arts college and is currently the ninth largest program in the United States.
Zack Paszko ’12 (Broadview Heights, Ohio), a current senior of the program, says “Most of the seniors already have jobs lined up for after graduation so the petro program does an effective job of preparing its students for the real work force, fulfilling its original mission.”
Its success rates are indeed so high that for the last several years, nearly 100 percent of its graduates have job placement upon receiving their degree. And Prather was the first to reap its benefits.