Lew Wentz, the son of a blacksmith, was reared with six brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh, Pa. He loved children, Shetland ponies, the Republican Party and baseball: playing, organizing teams, and coaching. He even tried to buy the St. Louis Cardinals in 1934.
An introvert who never married, Wentz wasn’t shy about work. Too poor for college, Wentz was coaching high school ball and campaigning door to door for the GOP when he rang John McCaskey’s bell. The wealthy McCaskey gave Wentz a chance to go to Ponca City, Okla., and join E.W. Marland’s oil venture on the 101 Ranch. In 1911, Wentz moved into Ponca’s Arcade Hotel and lived there the rest of his life.
Oil made Lew Wentz “the world’s richest bachelor” by 1927. His mother’s stern Methodist principles made Wentz a generous benefactor even in his lean years. Wentz secretly bought shoes, coats, and Christmas presents for children in Ponca City, sometimes borrowing money to fund his annual commitment.
Wentz lived a life of service. He provided funding for the Oklahoma Crippled Children’s Society, built a public pool and camp in Ponca City, and quietly supported many worthy causes with the words, “When you mention my name, emphasize the ‘We’ in Wentz.”
In 1926, Lew Wentz established foundations for student loans at four Oklahoma colleges. OSU, then Oklahoma A&M, received $50,000. At that time, the Wentz endowment was five times larger than the sum of all other student loan funds at the university. Records show six students received the first loans after Wentz advanced the college $3,000 to “get started” while the foundation papers were being processed.
Wentz sold his oil interests just before the stock market crash of 1929 and increased his support for higher education. Shortly before his death, Wentz acquired a number of Texas oil leases. Their eventual sale added nearly $2 million to the OSU Lew Wentz Foundation.
In 1960, the Foundation petitioned the courts to make a unique addition to the loan policy. The prestigious Lew Wentz Work/Service Scholarship was established, giving students a chance to “work off” college costs through on-campus jobs.
Today, Wentz Scholarships of $2,750 per year are OSU’s largest scholarship, based on academic standing with an emphasis on citizenship and leadership. The Wentz emphasis on repayment continues as a debt to society; scholars are selected for performance, potential, and commitment.
Wentz Research Projects of $4,500 per year are also awarded as an investment in the future. Undergraduates apply for project funding in tandem with a faculty mentor. Applications outline a research project and paper that can be completed within an academic year. Research scholars use their funds for materials and travel to professional conferences.
OSU’s Lew Wentz Foundation has provided support to OSU students who found success as Truman Scholars, Goldwater Scholars, a Rhodes Scholar, Gates Cambridge Scholars, National Honors Council Board Members, and countless graduate students. The future is bright for all Wentz award winners.
Since the death of Lew Wentz, a four-member, volunteer board of directors has managed OSU’s Lew Wentz Foundation. The first members were friends of Wentz, committed to preserving his values concerning public service, hard work, and his investment philosophies.
Following Wentz’s original trust, the OSU board is comprised of a Ponca City businessman, the president of the Bank of Oklahoma, a distinguished member of the OSU Alumni Association, and the current OSU President. They meet twice annually to determine investment strategies, calculate the funds available for dispersal, and establish policies regarding the OSU Lew Wentz awards. In 1990, the foundation added the services of an administrator.