Calvin M. Swindell - Chapman Legacy Society
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Gifts Established:

  • Calvin M. Swindell Endowed Presidential Scholarship | Est. 2002
brick engraved with name Calvin M. Swindell

Calvin M. Swindell

Calvin Swindell (BS ’47) liked to characterize himself as “just an ordinary person in some ways,” but he lived an extraordinary life – going places most people know only from the news.

Mr. Swindell was born in Philadelphia but came to Tulsa as a boy when his father accepted a position teaching in the Tulsa Public Schools. (His father would join the law profession in Tulsa a few years later.) Eventually, Calvin and his siblings, the late Betty Jewell (BA ’46), the late Ruth Allen (BA ’49), and the late Lt. Col. James Robert “Bob” Swindell (BS ’50), would all find themselves on The University of Tulsa campus.

Calvin chose petroleum engineering as his major, which involved taking a city bus to TU for 8 a.m. classes. He had received a $100 scholarship (“$200 was for the best students,” he joked). To supplement this help, he worked on the TU grounds for 35 cents an hour, sprigging the Harwell practice field and doing janitorial work.

But Mr. Swindell would have to earn his Bachelor of Science in stages because World War II intervened. When he was called up for duty in February 1943, he was nearing the end of his junior year. As a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, he served as navigator/bombardier transporting B-25 Mitchell bombers to the Pacific Theater. Mr. Swindell did not like to make much of his part in the war effort, but delivering one of the military’s most effective planes certainly was vital to America’s victory. Although Mr. Swindell never saw battle time, through his duties, he traveled to Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa and Tokyo during the post-war occupation.

After the war, Calvin returned to Tulsa and, thanks to the G.I. Bill, was able to complete his degree at TU, graduating in 1947. He went to work for Born Engineering and stayed for 45 years, retiring as Executive Vice President and Chief Engineer. His long career took him to faraway locales. One of his early assignments was in Canada, where, decades before it became profitable, he worked with an entrepreneur at a test facility to determine the feasibility of refining oil sands. He also took Born Engineering’s expertise to Scotland, Libya and Malaysia.

A few years into his career, Mr. Swindell met his wife, Geraldine “Geri” Lawyer, at a young adults group at First Presbyterian Church. They married in 1951 and reared four children – Robilea, Cynthia, James, and Rebecca. Although primarily a homemaker, Mrs. Swindell had earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota before coming to Tulsa to work for the YWCA. At age 60, she obtained a master’s degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma. Nevertheless, she had her own TU connection, working as a library assistant in McFarlin Library. She also worked with the Tulsa City-County Library System. Geri died in 1999.

Although busy with work and family, Mr. Swindell made time for civic activities, including serving as a director of the Tulsa Engineering Foundation. He was a devout Christian, and Tulsa’s First Presbyterian Church played a large role in his life. Through his friendship with a fellow congregant, past TU President Robert Lawless, he renewed his interest in his alma mater. Eventually, he was named to the Circle Society – TU’s most senior and distinguished donor affinity organization.

In 2002, he generously contributed a parcel of land and other assets to fund what is known as the Calvin M. Swindell Endowed Presidential Scholarship Fund. Through this fund, outstanding students, regardless of area of study, may apply for aid. Recipients are known as Calvin M. Swindell Presidential Scholars.

In 2014, Calvin and his siblings, Bob and Betty, were collectively honored with The Spirit of TU Award at the TU Homecoming celebration. As the inaugural recipients of this award, the three siblings were recognized for their exceptional enthusiasm for and devotion to TU, both in spirit and generosity.

The University of Tulsa is forever grateful for Calvin Swindell’s investment in deserving students. He passed away in 2020, but his loyalty and generosity to TU will be remembered each time a new Calvin M. Swindell Presidential Scholar is chosen.