Magazine article The New American

So Much to Give the Legacy of Garman Kimmell: Garman O. Kimmell Founded a Business That Became an Icon in the Oil and Gas Industry, Created a Slew of Valuable Patents, and Gave Away the Bulk of What He Earned

Magazine article The New American

So Much to Give the Legacy of Garman Kimmell: Garman O. Kimmell Founded a Business That Became an Icon in the Oil and Gas Industry, Created a Slew of Valuable Patents, and Gave Away the Bulk of What He Earned

Article excerpt

It is a classic story of Americana, with all the excitement, dreams, struggle, disappointment, ingenuity, resilience, triumph, love, loss, and enduring lessons common to the most memorable of such tales. Also common to such sagas--particularly those of the Christian sort--the most enduring impact is still uncoiling with the long passage of years and the generations.

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Those who knew Garman O. Kimmell, founder and builder of Oklahoma City-based Kimray, Inc., remember him best as a brilliant design engineer and a devout Christian man. He revolutionized the field of oil and gas production and made significant personal contributions to the field of heart treatment. But the technical nature of his inventions, coupled with a humble personality that eschewed personal glory, has consigned him to anonymity in previous American and even Oklahoman histories. That is the problem with history books--most of the men and women who possessed the noblest character and made the greatest contributions were too busy impacting other lives to get their own written about.

An American Boy

As with so many great American leaders across the fields of industry and business who were the children and grandchildren of immigrants in the 19th century, Kimmell took his cue on how to get ahead in America from his forebears. Kimmell's father, for instance, was an imaginative capitalist. "As a young man, around the turn of the 20th century," Kimmell's son-in-law and current Kimray chairman Tom Hill recalls, "Garman, Sr., would pedal a bicycle from town to town in rural Maryland. He carried a projector and a sheet on the back of it. After setting up, he'd charge a few pennies for people to come see a movie."

Garman, Sr. headed west with his family to Oklahoma during the early-20th-century oil boom when he was around 30 years of age. Though his small stature disqualified him from oil field work, he found work digging basements for houses in the red clay of a young and brawling Oklahoma City. He invested his earnings in city property during the boom, and gradually worked his way into a position as an oil and gas "land man" pulling together mineral interests for drilling projects.

"Garman, Sr. was the kind of person that if 15 people went to a farmer to get a lease, that farmer might run them all off with a shotgun," says Hill. "But he could go and have a signed lease within 30 minutes. He was a likable, but trustworthy and genuine person."

The younger Garman grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where his father had moved to pursue his business dealings, and reflected the older man's imagination and zeal from childhood onward.

"He built these huge 'war kites,'" Hill recounts of his father-in-law's teenaged years. "They required two or three young men to hold them down, or he'd have to tie them to the bumper of a car. He would make runners to be blown up the kite string, flying several hundred feet up in the air. He hooked a big multicell flashlight to one of them, thinking it would be fun to have light up there. The heavy flashlight, however, came loose, hurtled toward the earth, went through the roof of a nearby house, and crashed down on the floor beside his neighbor who was reading the newspaper. His father fixed the roof and wasn't angry with his son."

Kimmell's grandson David Hill, current CEO of Kimray, added to the story: One day, his grandfather "caught a neighbor's cat and tied it into a nice silk parachute one of his friends had and sent him up the kite line glider, maybe 800 or 900 feet in the air. The kite line glider disconnected at the top, and the cat floated gently back down to earth, all very fine and dandy, except the cat wasn't having a good time at all. Upon landing, apparently in a tree, he got hung up and he climbed up the lines and ripped that silk parachute to shreds. I don't remember Garman being too worried about the ride the cat took, but I remember him being very disturbed about the loss of that silk parachute. …

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