(Published in Spaniels In The Field Fall 1991)
The Emporia Gazette (Susan Hess, Reporter) recently proclaimed Roy French as their “man of the week”.
The write up follows:
For Roy French, education has been an on-going process throughout his nearly 94 years. Education has helped him build a successful career as an oilman, and with the wealth he has accumulated in his lifetime he now makes educational opportunities available to others.
Although he has never received a diploma, French, of Gridley, has never shied from the pursuit of learning. “I didn’t get to finish the sixth grade in school,” French said, “but I did a lot of studying later on. I bought hooks…. I liked mathematics very, very much. I didn’t get any of that in school.” On his own, French mastered calculus, geometry and trigonometry, skills that helped him in oil fields early in his career, in such ways as figuring oil tank capacities.
These days, French sharpens his knowledge of the world with extensive reading, including the Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, a weekly New York Times, Ducks Unlimited, Reader’s Digest, and fiction.
To help others have the same opportunity as he had, French established a scholarship program in 1982 for graduating seniors from Gridley, Yates Center and Madison high schools, in the counties where the wells of the French Oil Company are located. Forty-four students have received the $500 scholarships, which are renewed yearly as long as long as the students maintain a 3.0 grade-point average.
The R.E. French Family Educational Foundation also has paid for improvements to schools, such as computers and air-conditioning. The fund is also used to bring cultural events to
communities. When Gridley opened its new library in June, the foundation paid for a week of activities that included book talks, speakers such as Don Coldsmith and Jim Hoy, and Emporia State University’s Dr. Karen Ray with an impersonation of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
French was made an honorary alumnus of E-State earlier this summer for his contribution to the education of young Kansans. A generous contribution by French to the university will help the school expand its nursing program. This fall, for the first time, E-State will offer a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing.
French was born in Doniphan County, but he traveled halfway around the country, working on railroads and in oil fields, before making it back to this area. While working in an oil field outside Chandler, Oklahoma, he saw a newspaper ad for an oil lease in Coffey County. “I mortgaged my insurance policy and my auto-mobile and bought my first lease in Coffey County,” he said. A month and a half later he purchased another lease, and began to build his fortune in oil. French now owns wells in Coffey, Woodson and Greenwood counties.
French has also gained prominence as a breeder of English Springer Spaniels. He was the top breeder in the nation for several years, and rooms full of trophies and ribbons in his house attest to his successes. In 1987 he was honored by the state legislature for bringing “significant recognition” to the state as a nationally known dog breeder. Two of French’s spaniels have been named grand national champions: Kansan in 1962 and Denalisunflo Bandita in 1988. French’s kennel, Denalisunflo, combines an Indian word for “the great” – used to describe North America’s highest peak, Mount McKinley – with a contraction ofsunflower. French used to hunt with his dogs, but says, “I just don’t have the eyesight for it anymore.”
Although his eyesight may be failing a bit, French’s mind is still sharp as a tack, and he is active with his dogs and many other hobbies. His hobbies include raising five colonies of honey-bees; woodworking, building everything from picture frames to tables and desks; and keeping well-stocked fish ponds. His appreciation for culture has taken him from coast to coast and around the world. He has left footprints on every inhabited continent: from Pacific ports such as Hong Kong and cities in Australia to castle tours in Europe; kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland; visiting the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, and a visit to Victoria Falls, between Zimbabwe and Zambia in central Africa.
What’s his favorite place in the world?
“The best thing I’ve seen is when I come down that road,” he said, looking out of his window and sweeping his arm in an arc up his driveway, “and look here.”