James E. Wilkes (’53) is being recognized by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown as the recipient of the school’s 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award. This award is the highest honor that Pitt-Johnstown bestows upon its alumni. There are currently more than 18,000 Pitt-Johnstown alumni.
In announcing Mr. Wilkes’ selection, President Spectar offered, “Mr. Wilkes has a lifetime of individual achievement that is evidenced by his leadership in his profession and service to his community. He has achieved professional success on an international level through his leadership in the petroleum industry, but has never forgotten his roots. As a truly loyal alumnus, he sets a very strong example for others through his support of Pitt-Johnstown and the larger University of Pittsburgh. We are, indeed, very proud to recognize Mr. Wilkes as this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.”
An entrepreneur in the oil and gas industry, Mr. Wilkes graduated from Windber High School. With the help of the J. Irving Whalley senatorial scholarship, he attended Pitt-Johnstown during the “Asphalt Campus” days, when the school was located in the Moxham section of Johnstown.
He served in the US Army for two years and received funding from the GI Bill making it possible for him to attend the University of Pittsburgh where he earned his degree in geology. His career began as an engineer trainee for Halliburton, an oil field service company, where he worked for 21 years, rising through the ranks. He left Halliburton in 1980 to form his own business, Universal Well Services in Wooster, Ohio. A year later, he and a partner formed Duck Creek Petroleum, an oil and gas well drilling and production company. He sold the company in 1985 and in 1986 he and his son, Ted, a petroleum engineer, along with two other partners formed an international oil and gas field specialty chemical company, Clearwater, Inc. The company had offices in Pittsburgh, Houston, Calgary, and Moscow. In 1988, his son Scott, a geologist, formed Wilkes Energy, an oil and gas production company based in Akron, Ohio. Mr. Wilkes continues to be involved in the oil and gas business as an investor with Scott.
A loyal alumnus, Mr. Wilkes and his wife, Margaret, have created four scholarships at Pitt-Johnstown, the James E. and Margaret Wilkes Scholarship; the James E. and Margaret Wilkes Athletic Scholarship in basketball; the James E. Wilkes Windber Scholarship for Windber High School graduates, and the Margaret E. Wilkes Scholarship for Nurses.
Mr. Wilkes was one of the first five inductees into the 2008 Pitt-Johnstown Athletics Hall of Fame.
Mr. Wilkes’ generosity also extends to the University of Pittsburgh, where he created the James E. and Margaret E. Wilkes Football Scholarship, supported the Quest for Excellence-Olympic Sports and Football Locker funds, and contributed to the Panther Club Athletic Scholarship Fund and the Men’s Basketball Athletic Scholarship Fund. He was a 2007 inductee in the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning Society, which recognizes those charitable individuals who have made lifetime gifts totaling $1,000,000 or more to the University.
In order to be eligible for the Distinguished Alumni Award, candidates must have earned a bachelor’s or associate’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Candidates can also have earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh after completing two years of study at Pitt-Johnstown during a period when four-year degrees were not available at the Johnstown campus. Nominations for the award can be submitted by any member of the University of Pittsburgh community, including alumni, faculty, staff, students and Advisory Board members.
Special thanks to this year's selection committee: Melissa Bunk, Jeanne Feathers, Craig Minnick, Barbara Parkins, Barbara Visnovsky, and Janice Yursky-Troyan.