Every year, thousands of international students and every undergraduate student walk through the doors of a University of Tulsa campus building named in honor of Charles Henry Keplinger (BS ’31). Since its completion in 1983, the facility has become known as a landmark of knowledge and innovation in the engineering disciplines. However, many are unfamiliar with Keplinger and his legacy.
Keplinger majored in physics and graduated magna cum laude at TU. He was nominated for a Rhodes Scholarship and participated in the English Club, Honor Society and Student Council. Keplinger played trumpet in a band to work his way through college. He received a graduate fellowship in physics to George Washington University, studied abroad in Germany for one semester and became a junior member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He was awarded the Howard Acher gold medal as TU’s outstanding graduate for his accomplishments and integrity of character.
“I think he always had a plan,” said his daughter Karen Keplinger Mildren. “He loved traveling and made many friends abroad.”
Keplinger completed his master’s degree at George Washington University in 1933 and quickly found success in the oil and gas industry as a member of the engineering corps at Shell Oil Co. He worked in Tulsa and six other states as a production engineer and later division engineer. In 1944, he resigned from Shell to establish the partnership Keplinger and Wanenmacher, which became a leader in the industry. Keplinger traveled the world, visiting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Japan. He became fluent in German, Spanish and French. Keplinger built a stellar reputation in the industry as a trusted spokesman and was well respected among his colleagues. He lobbied in Washington D.C. and testified multiple times in Congress, opposing price controls and additional taxes on petroleum and gas.
“He was a cheerleader for not only the oil business but also the United States,” Mildren said. “His enthusiasm was contagious. His biggest joy was helping people, and he mentored many.”
She remembers her father and mother entertaining international guests at nightly dinner parties, welcoming members of industry with open arms. He carried pocket dictionaries of different languages and had his business cards printed in separate languages to accommodate other nationalities.
“He respected them and wanted to honor them by learning their culture,” she said.
Today, many international students attend class and conduct research in Keplinger Hall, which Mildren said is fitting for its namesake.
“If they knew my dad had been to their country, it would make them feel more at home, more connected,” she said. “He was sincere, gracious and full of hospitality.”
One of Keplinger’s final major trips abroad before his death in 1981 was at the invitation of oil and gas leaders in China. He was among the first U.S. oilmen to visit the country in the late 1970s. After his passing, Mildren’s brother Henry F. Keplinger (MS ’65) led Keplinger and Associates until it ceased operations.
Mildren said her father was called “Kep” to friends and family, and she’s happy to hear TU students refer to Keplinger Hall by that same nickname.
“That was the essence of my dad,” she said. “It was purely about how he could help the oil business in the nation and world.”