John Wold ’38, a devoted son of Union whose generosity has transformed the College, and a pioneering geologist whose vision changed the mining industry, died Feb. 19, 2017, in Casper, Wyo. He was 100.
Wold, also an accomplished politician, was born Aug, 31, 1916, in East Orange, N.J. But he grew up at Union College, a place that sparked his love of geology long before he was ever a student.
“John Wold was a remarkable person and Mrs. Ainlay and I feel so very fortunate to have known him and to have called him friend,” said President Stephen C. Ainlay. “He was the embodiment of what it means to be loyal son or daughter of Union. In John's case, he literally grew up on the Union campus and his commitment to the College knew no bounds.
"John and his wife, Jane, were warm, vibrant, engaging, intellectually curious, and took great interest in all things Union. They both believed in the power of education and the special capacity of Union College to change lives for the better. To say they both will be missed is an understatement.”
A self-described “campus kid,” his father, Peter I. Wold, led Union’s Physics Department from 1920-1945. During that time, the family lived in North College, in the building that is now Wold House (one of the College’s seven
Minerva Houses). On his daily walks home from school, young Wold habitually visited the spot where old geology specimens were discarded.
“I would paw through those samples and eventually built up a pretty nice collection of materials from around the world,” Wold told the Union College alumni magazine in 2003. “That dump was one of the first things that got me interested in geology.”
Wold played hockey at Union, was a St. Andrew’s University Exchange Scholar, and a member of Terrace Council, the Sigma Xi science honor society and Alpha Delta Phi fraternity.
Wold’s time on campus helped foster a bond between the man and his alma mater that would last a lifetime, and inspire a generosity that has transformed Union College.
In summer 2016, Wold gave a $5 million gift in memory of his wife, Jane, who died Nov. 18, 2015, at the age of 92. The couple had been married 70 years.
Together, they gave an earlier gift of $20 million, the largest in Union’s history. It made possible the Peter Irving Wold Center, a 35,000-square-foot state-of-the-art research and education center named for John’s father. The gift also established the John and Jane Wold Professorship in Religious Studies, supported Wold House, and established the John and Jane Wold Professorship in Geology.
Wold held a master’s of science in geology from Cornell University and was founder and president of Wold Oil Properties, Inc. A trustee emeritus at Union, he was a former Republican U.S. Congressman (1969-71). He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, first as a consulting physicist and later as a gunnery officer.
A dedicated philanthropist, he supported science and science education at the likes of Casper College, Casey Eye Institute (macular degeneration research), the University of Wyoming and Cornell University.
The Wolds were recognized by the city of Casper, Wyo., in 2014 for their support of the Wold Family Arena, an ice rink at the Casper Events Center. At the dedication ceremony, Athletic Director James McLaughlin and Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Rick Bennett presented Wold with a ring to commemorate Union’s national championship earlier that year.
Wold was also instrumental in the exploration and development of the second largest talc mine in North America, and the production of trona, a source of soda ash widely used in manufacturing, in southeastern Wyoming. His interest in coal gasification in the Powder River Basin unlocked millions of tons of coal that were otherwise too deep to mine economically. He explored business ventures in nearly all extractive industries including coal, oil and gas, soda ash and uranium.
In 2015, Wold received the Energy Pioneer Award from the Wyoming Natural Gas Fair Association, just one of numerous recognitions of his career in the energy industry.
Union recognized Wold’s visionary achievements much earlier. In 1999, he received the Eliphalet Nott Medal, which honors the perseverance of distinguished alumni who have attained great distinction in their fields. In 2008, Union bestowed an honorary doctor of science degree on Wold.
Wold visited campus last June for an early 100th birthday party hosted by students in Wold House.
Survivors include his sons Peter and Jack; daughter, Priscilla Longfield; and a number of grandchildren, including Joseph Wold ’10.
Funeral arrangements are pending.