Even at 100 years old, John Wold would be waiting promptly at 8:30 a.m. each day to go to the office. He no longer ran the company he started 60 years before, but Wold was still engaged in philanthropy, politics and business in Wyoming.
On a recent morning, the former congressman’s secretary arrived to drive him to work and found Wold on an exercise bike listening to the news. He wanted to get a little more biking in before he started the day, he told her. So she waited.
Two hours passed before Wold stepped off the bike.
He approached every venture in his life with that same measure of tenacity and spirit, his sons said Monday.
Wold died Sunday night in Casper.
A geologist by education, Wold pioneered new technologies for coal and trona while building a robust family business in oil and gas. He helped galvanize the Wyoming Republican Party that in his early days was overshadowed by a stonger left.
Those who knew him best said he left an indelible impression on Wyoming’s industries and its politics.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso called Wold a “legend.”
“John did it all. He truly exemplified our Wyoming values and Western spirit,” the senator said in a statement Monday. “I will miss John’s friendship and his love for all things Wyoming.”
In his businesses, Wold was known for his vigor and curiosity.
“John was probably the most hands-on, enthusiastic, optimistic explorer of things to do with energy that has been in the state of Wyoming,” said George Bryce of Lincoln Financial Advisors, a family friend who worked with Wold’s companies over the years.
Wold first moved to Wyoming in 1949 with his wife, Jane, to work for Barnsdall Oil Company. The geologist and industry man started his own outfit, Wold Oil and Gas, the following year.
Over the years, Wold explored business ventures in virtually every extractive industry in the state, from coal, oil and gas to soda ash and uranium.
“He thought large,” explained geologist Jimmy Goolsby, a friend and colleague. “He got a lot of things going that probably would never had been started if not for John Wold.”
He was an early developer of new technologies, and had particular faith in the underground gasification of coal in the Powder River Basin.
Wold hoped to capture the vast reserves of coal too far beneath the surface to be obtained economically. With that in mind, he obtained the rights to 20 million tons of deep coal as others gobbled up the coal-bed methane leases nearer to the surface.
Imagination set Wold apart, said Goolsby, the geologist.
The technology never took hold, and the company sold the coal to larger firms at a profit. Even in his regrets or failures, the man learned and grew, said Peter and Jack, Wold’s sons.
“Dad was a real visionary,” Jack Wold said. “He was a guy that would really look at things and he wasn’t afraid to follow his vision. There are many defeats he had and regrets, but you don’t hear as much about those.”
The two sons joined their father’s business in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and run it today.
But getting into the company was not a guarantee, they remembered.
Wold would not offer easy promotions or positions of leadership to his sons. They had to work on their own for six to eight years to prove their merit.
He did it as much for the good of the young men he raised as for the company he’d built, they said.
It was character that made Wold successful in business, and he also brought it home. He had an intellectual’s love for learning and teaching.
The only time Peter or Jack went home from church with homework was when their father was the Sunday school teacher, they remembered.
Wold’s political career began as soon as he moved to Wyoming, as a member of the school board.
First elected to the Wyoming Legislature in 1956, he became the youngest committee chairman in Wyoming history. He believed in free enterprise and small government.
Wold threw the same energy into politics as he did into business. He worked tirelessly to advance the Republican Party in Wyoming at a time when the Democrats had a strong hold on Wyoming through the railroad unions.
Wold went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives after an unsuccessful bid for a Senate seat. Elected in 1968, he was the first geologist to serve in Congress.
“He always had this conservative yet responsible outlook towards government,” said Bryce, the financial advisor. “He was brilliant and he could see opportunities.”
The ability to notice trends is something his sons believe their father possessed as well. From politics to business, Wold seemed to be one step ahead of his peers.
On hearing of Wold’s death, members of Wyoming’s congressional delegations offered condolences to the family while celebrating the businessman’s unique vitality.
Barrasso noted Wold and his late wife Jane’s kindness and generosity.
Wold gave to Casper College, the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science and his alma mater, Union College.
He contributed $2 million to Cornell University, where he received his master’s in geology, for the Wold Chair of Environmental Balance.
Speaking to the Star-Tribune in 2011, Wold said there needed to be a deeper understanding between environmental concerns and extractive industries like oil and gas.
“There should be a balance between responsible development of our minerals and desire to leave the country we work in more desirable in terms of agriculture and hunting and fishing,” he said.
The central philosophy he lived by was integrity and honesty, he said in an interview.
“It sounds cliché, but he wanted to leave the world a better place,” said Jack Wold.
Wold’s wife died in 2015, and the couple is survived by Peter, Jack and a daughter, Priscilla Longfield.
One of Wold’s goals in life was to live until he was 100. And like most of his goals, he reached it.
Follow managing editor Christine Peterson on Twitter @PetersonOutside
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