Photo © 2012 Adam Jahiel
FOUNDER RAYMOND PLANK
The capacity of the individual is infinite. Limitations are largely of habit,
convention, acceptance of things as they are, fear, or lack of self-confidence.
– RAYMOND PLANK
Ucross Founder Raymond Plank (1922-2018) was a World War II veteran, business leader, philanthropist, and stalwart individualist. He was born on May 29, 1922, on a farm in Wayzata, Minnesota to Raby Plank (farmer, coal miner, and printer) and Maude Ruth Howe Plank. While his parents’ schooling was limited, they instilled in their children the value of education and Raymond dedicated himself to lifetime learning. At the age of 90, he published his memoir, A Small Difference, which drew from more than 80 years of daily diaries that he kept. The title was inspired by his father’s advice to him “to try to make a very small difference on behalf of others.”
As a young boy, Raymond demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit selling eggs, maple syrup, and other products from the family farm. He attended the Blake School in Minneapolis and entered Yale University in September 1940. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Raymond enlisted in the US Army Air Corps Reserves, piloting B-24 bombers; he completed 40 combat missions, earning a Bronze Star, two Oak Leaf Clusters, and numerous other combat-related commendations.
Upon graduating from Yale University in 1946 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, he returned to Minneapolis and with two partners formed Northwest Business Service, an accounting, tax, and business advisory firm. Drawing on that experience, Raymond and two friends, Truman Anderson and Chuck Arnao, formed Apache Corporation in 1954 with $250,000 in initial capital. Apache ultimately became one of the world’s leading independent oil and gas companies with a market capitalization exceeding $50 billion.
During his tenure as Chairman and CEO of Apache (he retired in 2009), Raymond founded several charitable organizations that have impacted the lives of millions. Recognizing that artists need creative space and time to focus their energies, he established Ucross Foundation in 1981. Since then, nearly 2,200 artists, writers, composers, and choreographers have been provided the gift of time and space through Ucross residencies. Many have earned prestigious recognition, including ten Pulitzer Prizes, nine MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships, nine National Book Awards, six Tony Awards, two Academy Awards, and many more.
Raymond’s love for Wyoming, where he owned a home for nearly 40 years, led to a lifelong dedication to conservation efforts, which included the 1999 establishment of a conservation easement on the Ucross Ranch with The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming. His vision for Ucross as a multi-use resource center included the restoration of a nineteenth century barn and ranch house, known as Big Red, now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. He later spearheaded the creation of the Park at Ucross in 2012, which features the interdenominational Ucross Chapel, open to the public at all times, the Johansen Memorial Gardens, and the Raymond Plank Center.
Plank was a fearless learner who deeply respected teachers as the architects of civil society. In 2001, he created Fund for Teachers, a national organization that empowers teachers to push the boundaries of their own learning in order to spark creative energy in their students. To date, 8,000 Fund for Teacher Fellows, working with more than 24 million students, have designed their own learning odysseys in more than 100 countries. Another educational initiative, Springboard – Educating the Future, was established in 2004 in Egypt, and it has now built 200 one-room schools for girls, providing educational opportunities to this underserved population.
He endowed the Raymond Plank Professorship of Global Energy Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the Raymond Plank Chair in Incentive Economics at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. As a corporate leader, Raymond spearheaded Apache’s charitable activities. Among many projects, Raymond, along with Apache Corporation, funded programs to plant more than four million trees across the U.S. He was also an avid outdoorsman who loved hunting and fishing, was a crack shot with a rifle and shotgun, and was the devoted owner of numerous Labrador retrievers.
In 2013, in a unique partnership with the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, he established the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative focused on land management in the American West. The initiative provides students with opportunities to connect with land management practitioners in Wyoming and beyond, and to pursue cutting-edge research aimed at enhancing the ability of landowners to make financially and ecologically sustainable decisions. More recently, he established the Plank Stewardship Initiative to further promote conservation practices within working agriculture.
Raymond has donated his archives and memorabilia to the Minnesota Historical Society while contributing significant funding to assist with the Society’s restoration of Historic Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, where his collection will ultimately be housed and where, fittingly, Raymond first enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942.
Raymond passed away in November 2018 at age 96.
New York Times: Raymond Plank, 96, Coal Miner's Son Who Became Oil Tycoon
Houston Chronicle: Apache Corp. founder Raymond Plank dies
Washington Post: Raymond Plank, who made Apache Corp. an oil and gas innovator, dies at 96