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Charles Spahr, Stalwart Supporter of KU, 1934 Alumnus, Dies

Friday, April 10, 2009

Charles Spahr meets with engineering students during a 2004 visit to the University of Kansas
A longtime friend and supporter of the University of Kansas has passed away.

Charles E. Spahr, whose name appears on the Spahr Engineering Library and the Spahr Engineering Classroom in Eaton Hall, died Tuesday, April 7, 2009, in Shaker Heights, Ohio. He was 95.

“Charles Spahr was one of the most loyal Jayhawks I have ever known, and he was dedicated to the School of Engineering,” said Chancellor Robert Hemenway. “On behalf of the entire university community, I offer my deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

He was born in 1913 in Kansas City, Kan., and in 1930 enrolled in the University of Kansas School of Engineering. According to a report in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Spahr worked his way through college by waiting on tables in the Women’s Faculty Club and working in the engineering library. He reportedly spent so much time studying that his classmates nicknamed him “Brain.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1934. He attended the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration and in 1939 joined Standard Oil of Ohio. During World War II, Spahr served as a major in the Army Corps of Engineers, where he supervised construction of a 570-mile section of pipeline to supply fuel for long-range bombers in the China Burma India Theater. He resumed work for Standard Oil after the war.

Spahr became director of Sohio in 1955, president in 1957, chief executive officer in 1959 and chairman in 1970. He remained CEO and chairman until his retirement in 1977. Among his outstanding accomplishments are his role in negotiating a merger with the British Petroleum Company (BP) and his efforts in the early ’70s to construct the Trans-Alaska Pipeline that opened the North Slope oil reserves.

Spahr’s active service to national and civic organizations brought him wide recognition. He was the 1974-75 president of the American Petroleum Institute and in 1980 earned the institute’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement. In 1952, he directed the U.S. Supply and Transportation Division of the Petroleum Administration for Defense in Washington. In 1965, Vice President Hubert Humphrey appointed him chairman of the Plans for Progress Advisory Council. 

A check for the first barrel of North Shore Alaska crude oil is on display in the Spahr Engineering Library at the University of Kansas School of Engineering
Throughout his career, Spahr’s connection to the university and the School of Engineering remained strong. He was on the planning committees for the engineering library and for Summerfiled Hall. He was a long-time trustee of the KU Endowment and was area vice president of the KU Alumni Association chapter serving Cleveland. He was chairman of the library committee and led the fund-raising effort to support construction and expansion of Spahr Hall. He was an honorary lifetime member of the School of Engineering Advisory Board.

Spahr has been recognized by the university and its affiliates with their highest honors. He received the university’s Distinguished Service Citation in 1964, the Fred Ellsworth Medallion in 1983 and the Distinguished Engineering Service Award in 1980.

“Charlie will be dearly missed,” said Dean Stuart R. Bell of the School of Engineering. “He and Janie led by example on so many occasions and in so many ways.  Not only was he generous with his contributions, he was generous with his time and wisdom. We are genuinely grateful for his involvement and this institution is better for it.”

Spahr made numerous gifts that support a variety of building projects, scholarships and professorships.

“Throughout his association with the university, Charles Spahr and his wife, Janie, were generous donors to KU,” said Dale Seuferling, president of KU Endowment. “His contributions will have an impact on the educational environment for generations of KU students.”

Lorraine J. Haricombe, dean of libraries added, “KU Libraries faculty and staff were deeply saddened to hear of Charles Spahr’s passing. We remain incredibly grateful for the transformational gift that created the Spahr Engineering Library. Charles’ foresight and generosity will continue to positively impact faculty, students and scholars for generations to come.”

Survivors include his wife, Mary Jane “Janie” Bruckmiller of Shaker Heights; children, Sally Whitlow, Stephen, Cindy Moran, Susan Ford, and Stephanie; 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.  


One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times