Tuesday, 2 September 2008

George William Strake

George William Strake - Pioneering Texas oilman; Director o/t Mercantile-Commerce Bank and Trust Company in St. Louis; Chairman o/t Board and President o/t Aluminum Products Company in Houston; Founder o/t Houston Tribune

Died. George W. Strake, 74, pioneering Texas oilman and pillar of the Roman Catholic Church; of a heart attack; in Columbus, Texas. For five years as a wildcatter, Strake drilled dry well after dry well. Then in 1931 he hit oil in Conroe, Texas, in what proved to be the nation's third biggest field. It brought him a fortune estimated at $100 million, much of which he gave to his church—a beneficence that brought him two of the Vatican's highest honors for a layman—the Order of St. Sylvester and the Order of Malta.

STRAKE, GEORGE WILLIAM (1894-1969). George William Strake, pioneer oilman and philanthropist, was born on November 9, 1894, in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of William George and Anna (Casper) Strake. He was educated in the public schools of St. Louis and received a B.S. degree from St. Louis University in 1917. He served in the United States Army Air Corps in World War I,qv then worked in the oil industry in Mexico from 1919 to 1925. Afterwards, he went to Havana, Cuba, where he lost almost all of the $250,000 he had made in Mexico. In 1927 Strake moved to the Houston area and, as an independent oilman, leased land near Conroe. His 8,500 acres of South Texas Development Company land was the largest block of land leased up to that time for oil exploration. Geologists claimed that no oil was to be found there, however, and Strake could not get outside financial backing; nevertheless, after drilling many dry wells, he struck oil in December 1931. Other successful wells followed in the Conroe oilfield,qv which proved to be the third largest oilfield in the United States. Strake's discovery proved that the Cockfield sand was an oil-producing formation and opened wildcatting in an area fifty miles wide and 500 miles long, from Texas into Louisiana and Mississippi. His oil operations eventually spread into coastal and West Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, the southern states, and as far north as Michigan and Nebraska. His oil fortune was estimated to be between $100 million and $200 million. In addition to his oil interests, Strake was a director of the Mercantile-Commerce Bank and Trust Company in St. Louis, chairman of the board and president of the Aluminum Products Company in Houston, an original stockholder and founder of the Houston Tribune, and an officer in many other companies. In 1937 he represented the governor and the state of Texas at the United States presidential inauguration, and during World War II he served on the citizens' committee for Houston-Harris County civil defense and as Texas representative for Belgian war relief.

Strake, a devout Catholic, gave much of his oil fortune to educational institutions, civic organizations, and charities. He served on the national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America and donated several thousand acres near Conroe to the scouts; the land, named Camp Strake, was the third largest scout camp in the United States. Strake donated $500,000 to the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation in Houston and thus became a founding benefactor of that institution. He was also a generous contributor to the University of St. Thomas and a member of its board of trustees, and to Strake Jesuit College Preparatory School in Houston, which was named in his honor. He was on the board of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, served Our Lady of the Lake College (now Our Lady of the Lake University) in San Antonio in an advisory capacity, and was a trustee of the Institute of Chinese Culture in Washington. He was also on the board of governors of the American National Red Cross and the Southwest Research Institute and was a trustee of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Strake was cited as the most generous contributor to the Houston-Harris County United Fund charities. He was a member of numerous professional and civic organizations. In recognition of his gifts and support, Strake received several honorary degrees and four papal honors between 1937 and 1950, including two of the Vatican's highest honors for a layman-the Order of St. Sylvester and the Order of Malta. The National Conference of Christians and Jews, in which he served as a member of the national board, honored him in 1950 for outstanding contributions to business, civic, and religious affairs. On June 5, 1957, the citizens of Conroe honored Strake on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the discovery of oil in Montgomery County by dedicating a monument to him on the city hall lawn; Governor Price Daniel read a proclamation designating the day George W. Strake Day in Montgomery County. Strake was married to Susan E. Kehoe on September 10, 1924, and they had three children. He died on August 6, 1969, in Columbus, while on a trip to San Antonio, and was buried in the Garden of Gethsemane Cemetery in Houston.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Houston Chronicle, June 4, 5, 1957, August 7, 1969. Houston Post, May 1, 1966, August 7, 1969. Time, August 15, 1969. Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin. Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Vol. 2.
Copyright ©, The Texas State Historical Association, 1997-2002
Last Updated: January 18, 2008

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