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WENTZ, LOUIS HAINES (1877?-1949)

Oklahoma oilman and philanthropist Louis "Lew" Haines Wentz, one of seven children of Louis and Adeline Wentz, was born in Iowa. His tombstone inscription gives his birth date as November 10, 1877. However, the 1880 and 1900 federal censuses indicate that his birth year was 1872. His family moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he was educated and played baseball. Before coming to Oklahoma, he coached baseball at the high school and semiprofessional levels. Wentz is credited with originating the arm signals used by baseball umpires to indicate balls and strikes. In 1911 John G. McCaskey of Pittsburgh asked him to oversee his oil interests in Oklahoma. Wentz planned to stay in Oklahoma for six months but liked the area and decided to remain. Through the years he made his home in Ponca City at the Arcade Hotel, which he owned. Fond of wildlife, he established a game refuge on his two-thousand-acre ranch near Ponca City.

Following McCaskey's death in 1924 Wentz became the sole owner of their business interests and organized the Wentz Oil Corporation. He amassed his fortune in the oil and gas business and was considered one of the seven richest men in the United States in 1927. In 1929 Democratic Gov. William J. Holloway appointed him as chair of the newly formed three-member Oklahoma Highway Commission. During his four-year tenure he advocated a state highway patrol to enforce driving regulations. On several occasions it was speculated that Wentz would buy a major league baseball team such as the Pittsburgh Pirates or the St. Louis Cardinals. He gradually divested himself of his oil interests and diversified in numerous business ventures such as citrus groves in California, timber in Louisiana, real estate in Texas and Oklahoma, and Oklahoma newspapers.

Wentz, who never married, was interested in children's welfare. He helped establish the Oklahoma Society for Crippled Children in 1925 and the Crippled Children's Hospital (now Children's Hospital) in Oklahoma City in the late 1920s. In 1928 he built a public swimming pool and camp in Ponca City. Many college students have benefitted from scholarships provided by the Lew Wentz Foundation established at the University of Oklahoma and at Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) in 1926. For his many charitable contributions he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in 1942. A golf course in Ponca City and a dormitory on the Oklahoma State University campus are named in his honor. Wentz died of a coronary thrombosis on June 9, 1949, in Ponca City, and he was buried in the IOOF (Odd Fellows) cemetery.

SEE ALSO: HIGHWAYS, ERNEST WHITWORTH MARLAND, MARLAND OIL COMPANY, PETROLEUM, WILLIAM GROVE SKELLY.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Jack Alexander, "Lew Wentz: Oklahoma's Godfather," The Saturday Evening Post (December 18, 1948). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 10 and 12 June 1949. Richard Lloyd Jones et al., Oklahoma and the Mid-Continent Oil Field ([Oklahoma City]: Oklahoma Biographical Co., 1930). Ponca City (Oklahoma) News, 9, 10, and 12 June 1949. "Louis H. Wentz," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Linda D. Wilson

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