Wiley Cox is a 2017 University of Tulsa Distinguished Alumnus who will be honored during Homecoming Week, October 12-15.
Wiley Cox (BS ’65) is a Tulsa native who grew up in the shadow of The University of Tulsa. His grandmother lived a block away from campus, and after graduating from Will Rogers High School, he started TU with the help of a scholarship from the Will Rogers Rotary Club.
“That $500 scholarship got me the leg up I needed,” he said. “I knew that I could continue to work for Borden’s Cafeterias, live at home and with some scholarships along the way, I might make it to graduation.”
TU and the chemical engineering program quickly proved to be the right choice for Cox. Small classes and opportunities to interact with students were encouraging as he navigated the financial road to a college degree. After his sophomore year, Cox acquired a job as a night shift janitor at the Jersey Production Research Co., now TU’s North Campus facility. At $2 an hour, he couldn’t believe his good fortune. Cox decided to marry his high school sweetheart and fellow TU student, Diane Krumme (BS ’65), who majored in mathematics.
“Semester after semester, I would go to the administration office and ask for any financial help they could find,” he said. “That financial aid kept me in school, and I have never forgotten that. At a larger school, I am not sure that I would have survived.”
The couple graduated in 1965, and Cox continued his education with a master’s degree in chemical engineering. His first job was at Celanese Chemicals in Bay City, Texas, where he worked on the plant’s process control computer.
“In 1967, it was just the beginning of data processing, or information technology as it’s known today,” he said. “We developed applications for maintenance, warehouse inventory control and plant unit operations.”
Cox later transferred to the Celanese office in Charlotte, North Carolina, and led the project team that developed the first online, real-time data gathering system for a Celanese fibers plant in Greenville, South Carolina. Cox returned to Tulsa in 1977 where he worked for Amerada Hess. In 1983, he went to work for his father-in-law, Harlan Krumme, at Krumme Oil Co. in Bristow, Oklahoma. Ten years later, he and Krumme branched off on their own to establish Falcon Oil Properties. Cox’s son-in-law came aboard after the death of Krumme in 1998, and the company continues its conservative, local style of business.
“The oil business is difficult because of the high capital requirements and the boom and bust nature of the industry,” Cox said. “But, what is good about a small oil company is the people we have done business with for years. It’s done on a handshake basis, and we try to support each other.”
Throughout a career he describes as a “long and winding road,” Cox and his family have enjoyed the ride. The couple has two children, Kristin and Kenneth, as well as five grandchildren. He and Diane have participated in many cycling tours in the United States and overseas. They also have visited six continents and more than 25 countries and counting. When not working (Cox is not retired) or traveling, they spend their weekends at Lake Tenkiller.
Due in part to his successful early endeavors in data processing, Cox never had the opportunity to work directly in chemical engineering, but his TU engineering degree made him a valuable asset to employers. With his background, he could effectively communicate with operations personnel about their jobs, problems and information needs.
“The TU chemical engineering department had this philosophy that as an engineer you had to be prepared to solve problems,” Cox said. “Your value to a company was your ability to address and solve problems.”
Grateful for the educational opportunities he received, Cox has been focused on making college accessible to students who can’t attend due to financial reasons. He helped establish a college scholarship at the Bristow Rotary Club and later set up a similar program at Falcon Oil Properties where he requires students to check in with him each semester and provide updates on their experience and academic progress. Over the years, the Cox family has helped many first-generation students achieve their dreams of a college degree.
“There is no doubt I feel I have a debt to TU for the help I received, and I know firsthand what scholarship money can mean for these kids,” he said.
Memories of TU students and faculty made an impression on him as a student, and those relationships have inspired several generous gifts. He and his wife have supported the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences, Gilcrease Museum, the Golden Hurricane Club, the Reynolds Center construction, the Chapman Stadium remodel and the Keplinger Hall renovation. Other TU financial contributions include the Edward and Charlotte Howard Memorial Endowment for Mathematics and the Professor Paul Buthod Scholarship Fund.
“I’m honored to be named a Distinguished Alumnus, and it’s a privilege to represent the class of 1965,” Cox said. “We had some great classmates, and I will always treasure my time at TU.”