L. Decker Dawson - Chapman Legacy Society
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Gifts Established:

  • L. Decker Dawson Endowed Professorship in Geophysics | Est. 2008
  • L. Decker Dawson Endowment Fund in Geophysics | Est. 2008
brick engraved with name L. Decker Dawson

L. Decker Dawson

Decker Dawson was a lifelong doodlebugger in the oil and gas industry. For more than 70 years, he pursued a career in seismic geophysics, a career that he hadn’t planned, but one that the native Tulsan fell in love with from his first days on his first job.

After attending The University of Tulsa for two years, then graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1941 with a degree in civil engineering, he began job hunting. Even then, the country was still pulling out of the Great Depression. Dawson wisely took the opportunity given to him by Magnolia Oil Co. to work on a seismic crew, an area in which he had no specific background. He soon found himself fascinated by the field. His job involved “lugging jugs” – laying electrical devices that record sound waves induced by explosive charges.

When World War II demanded his service, Dawson put his work on hold to give four years to his country through the U.S. Naval Reserve. After the war, in 1946 he went to work for a small new company, Republic Exploration, as a party chief and supervisor. There he was constantly on the move as he was sent to sites in Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. “I worked wherever they sent the crew,” he told interviewers; “I lived out of a suitcase.”

But perhaps the luckiest day of his life was Jan. 1, 1950, when he began an assignment in Midland, Texas. Sometime after that, he and a friend were in town, and Decker saw a young woman walking down the street. “I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen,” he said. Luck was with Decker; his friend knew the girl, Louise Loper, and introduced the two. It was a whirlwind romance. Decker and “Lou” met in May and married Dec. 23, 1950.

Business was bustling and booming in Midland, so much so that companies could barely keep up with demand. One day in 1952, a client called Republic’s offices requesting a crew on short notice. At that point, the company was too swamped to take on additional jobs, so Dawson asked the client if they would trust him to handle the job. The answer was “yes” and was the impetus for him to put together a crew and start Dawson Geophysical Co., where he was “interpreter, supervisor, marketer and investor,” according to one oil writer.

Yes, Dawson knew the industry, but he was short on executive experience. The 32-year-old entrepreneur called on a CPA friend for help with business planning, insurance and banking. Lou, who had worked for The Western Company, was the bookkeeper and “was an extraordinary help,” Dawson said. The assistance allowed him to devote his time to the geophysics side. For a time, a P.O. Box was the home office address.

By the time Dawson Geophysical incorporated in 1957, its crews were working coast to coast. The company opened a second office in Denver in 1980; then Dawson Geophysical made its initial public offering of stock in 1981. Today, it is one of the largest geophysical companies in the continental U.S., employing more than 1,000 people. In 2007, Dawson Geophysical was named No. 7 on Fortune Small Business’ list of fastest growing small public companies.

Born in Tulsa in 1920, the son of a Sinclair pipeline department employee, L. Decker Dawson epitomizes the strength and persistence of those who grew up during the Great Depression. Colleagues and friends describe him with an amazing string of superlatives – a man of highest integrity, gentleman of gentlemen, a first-class citizen, a strong philanthropist, a quiet leader. He is fair, compassionate, upright, honest, generous, caring and even a jokester. His motto is “Do It Right.”

As for business strategy, associates say Dawson Geophysical has lived through ups and downs of industry by prudently avoiding over-expansion during boom times and watching expenses during lean times. Of course, it is Dawson himself who planted the seeds of that company culture. His industry leadership also has included serving as president of the Society for Exploration Geophysics; past president and honorary life member of the Permian Basin Society; and past Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors.

Decker and Lou were married for 60 years before her death in 2011 at age 95; they had one daughter, Mary. Decker Dawson passed away in 2018 at the age of 98. The couple was active in numerous Midland charities and educational institutions, but the devoted pair did not forget Decker’s experiences as an undergraduate at TU, where from 1937-39 he was a proud member of the Sound of the Golden Hurricane marching band. Indeed, he credited TU as a catalyst to his success.

Decker shared his success with TU through the L. Decker Dawson Endowed Professorship in Geophysics, established in 2007. The professorship is used to recruit and retain a distinguished faculty member in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences by providing salary compensation and support for research and other professional activities. In establishing the professorship, Dawson said, “TU has a long history of supporting the geosciences industry, an industry that is in my blood and in my heart. Supporting the TU Geosciences Department by establishing a professorship in geophysics allows me to leave a legacy for an industry that has been very good to me.”

In 2008, he generously added to his TU support with the L. Decker Dawson Endowment Fund in Geophysics to enhance the academic and professional development activities of undergraduate and graduate students in geophysics. Remembering his own time in the marching band, he also provided funds for a clarinet that will help keep the Sound of the Golden Hurricane ringing strong.

TU is deeply grateful for these gifts, which add immensely to the College of Engineering and Natural Science’s ability to provide the highest quality education to its students. It is hoped their support will help students today and tomorrow discover the excitement that Decker found in geophysics, when a civil engineer became a doodlebugger.