I have a wonderful and true story I want to share with you about a man and his seven siblings in the Atoka, Okla., area who survived after losing both parents in the 1930s. This man I speak of is and has been a dear friend of mine for some 40 years, both personally and in business. I’m going to tell you the details and facts as accurate as possible.
The dates and details I speak about come from a couple of sources; myself and of course the gentleman I am talking about. He and his lovely wife live in Oklahoma; my wife and I visit as often as we can. So let me began by telling you a bit about this guy and let the information flow from there, huh?
He started his career in the late ‘50s as a field engineer for the clay products association calling on engineers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas to promote the use of clay pipe and associated products over alternative materials in sewage transportation lines and systems.
In the early ‘60s, he was offered a position as a product engineer with the Griffin Pipe Products Co. in Council Bluffs, Iowa. His duties encompassed a 17-state area calling on engineers to advocate the use of cast/ductile iron pipe for water systems and assisting sales reps with field problems. Later in his career, he was transferred and moved to Kansas City, Mo., as a sales rep.
Little did he know at the time, but he was on his way to a lifetime in this business in one position/company or another!.
Well, in 1965 he was offered (and accepted) a sales position from competitor American Cast Iron Pipe Co. (ACIPCO) and was quickly relocated to Chicago. After about three years, he was relocated again to Columbus, Ohio. Five years later, he was approached by ACIPCO’s vice president of sales to join him and another partner in Houston to start a new company serving the utility supply industry.
The three men founded Western Pipe and Supply. After a very successful five years running and growing the business, they sold it to a prominent Houston banker and land developer.
Growing Midwest Flange
This engaging fellow invested in a company by the name of Midwest Flange Co. in Omaha, Neb., during his time with Western Pipe. It was owned by a good friend he knew while he was with Griffin Pipe. As time went on, he decided to sell his interest in Western Pipe. He moved his family to Omaha and became president/CEO of Midwest Flange.
In 1978, I was the branch manager of the rather large operation known as ITT Grinnell Supply Sales in Denver, selling mostly in the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains to wholesalers, end-users and pipe fabricators. I learned of Midwest Flange under this aggressive new ownership and immediately hot-footed it to Omaha to see what I could see in one visit. I would meet the new owner and see if I could pick up some truckload business for Grinnell.
Well, as I should have expected, I was well-received and not only came away with a very nice order but the beginning of a long-time business and personal relationship with the CEO. You see, Midwest could fabricate pipe and flanges thru 24 in., while most fabricators were limited to something less than that size range.
In 1977, this CEO asked four other fabricators from Texas, Alabama, Virginia and Kansas to meet with him in Kansas City to discuss the fabrication business and market. The outcome of that planned meeting was the formation of the National Association of Pipe Fabricators (NAPF). Their objective was to inform engineers and contractors of an alternative source for fabricated cast/ductile flanged pipe.
It soon became evident that Midwest could not prosper by dealing only in the Nebraska market area. It decided to offer a complete package of flanged pipe and fittings, along with installation drawings, to mechanical contractors across the country who were building water and sewer treatment plants. ACIPCO and U.S. Pipe were competitors in the plant piping business, so they quickly refused to sell them pipe, fittings or flanges anymore.
This was a concern only for a short time. Midwest contacted Griffin Pipe; it could supply up to 24-in. pipe and would sell to them. A contact with McWane Pipe in Birmingham, Ala., created a deal and an account number for them to acquire the pipe needed up to 36 in. The company purchased fittings needed from several USA foundries.
This became an issue between Midwest and ITT Grinnell. Things were changing and one big change in specifications, due to tough and very smart competitive moves, was a new flange on the market and gaining more approvals every day. It was a new hi-hub ductile iron threaded flange (rather than cast iron), giving a better thread and snug fit. It was lighter than the old standard cast-iron flange. And it was much more competitive due to the origin being from South Korea and China.
ITT Grinnell did not have a ductile iron flange to offer nor the capability to produce ductile at our foundries at the time, so our business began to wind down except for an occasional order to keep me out of trouble — thanks to the friendship and bond Midwest’s CEO and I had for each other, as well as our companies.
At that time, Midwest also developed and patented a fabricated wall pipe (Adapt-a bell). It eliminated long waiting times from job casting foundries that required the need for “block-outs” in underground construction walls, making them unnecessary. It was a tremendous product and, in many cases, it became the tie-breaker selling point, leading to many projects and new customers for Midwest.
As it continued to grow, it added a grooved-end line of fittings and couplings offered by Victaulic Co. as a competitive alternative to the conventional flanged piping systems. A take-off department and several drafting/project managers were added to Midwest’s staff and a bit later the company obtained the first complete CAD/CAM computer drafting system in the cast/ductile pipe fabrication industry.
Over the next decade, it continued to prosper and grow nationwide with projects in Central America, Saudi Arabia and Russia with sales totaling almost $10 million annually. In 1987, Midwest decided to sell the operation completely to its employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The ESOP was completed in 1988. With that plan satisfied, my great friend retired — packed up and moved the family to Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Rest of The Story
As I mentioned, my friend was born in Oklahoma. He was the eighth child of Col. William and Helen Rogers. His given name was Marland McKinley Rogers, after Oklahoma’s Gov. Marland, who was a personal friend of Marland Roger’s dad. Before his death, Col. Bill was promised the job of warden of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary as he had already served the state as a deputy U.S. Marshall. A great honor for Col. Bill but he never made it.
At the tender age of 15 months, baby Marland lost his father. He left his widowed wife with eight children to care for. She had several jobs but simply not enough cash coming in during those days to properly care for them, so after a couple of weeks in those conditions, she just abandoned them.
I should mention this was 1935, the middle of the Great Depression — times were tough. The two oldest boys (Bill and Lloyd) soon ran away from home and the remaining six (Edith, Bea, David, Pat, Sally and Marland) lived alone in the house. Soon the town sheriff learned of the situation; after picking all of them up, he transported David, Pat, Sally and Marland to the Whittaker State Orphans Home in Pryor, Okla., and placed Edith and Bea in two of his church member’s homes.
When Helen returned to the area soon after and learned of the placements, she insisted that Bea and Edith both be placed in the Pryor location also, while Marland was adopted at the age of 18 months by Frank and Elsie Wright of Tulsa, Okla.
During the legal processing of all necessary papers, he was officially given his new name — Teddy Blaine Wright. Ted, as he is known today, is indeed the person I have described as my friend for the past 40 plus years.
He grew up in Tulsa and attended Tulsa public schools. His adopted father, Frank, passed away when he was 15 years old. His adopted mother, Elsie, was a working mom. She decided the best thing for Ted would be to attend the Oklahoma Military Academy (OMA) in Claremore, Okla. He did just that and graduated in 1952, receiving a partial basketball scholarship at Oklahoma A&M University, which is now … you guessed it, Oklahoma State University.
After an injury, Ted dropped out and went to work. When he thought his knee injury had healed, he enlisted into the Marines, but during basic training, he re-injured the knee again and was discharged. After some rehab, he returned to OMA Junior College where a friend asked him to stay at his home in Oklahoma City during the summer break.
While living there, and working as a roustabout in the oil fields, he met a neighborhood young lady, Terry, whom he dated and later married in 1957. They now have two children, five granddaughters and three great-granddaughters.
Now, the plot thickens. In June 1994, he received a call from a man by the name of Pat Thompson. After confirming that Ted knew he was adopted, he disclosed that he was his brother and had been searching for him for more than 17 years! He explained that he had previously found Bea, David and Sally, and was looking forward to a great reunion. Since then they all have passed away except Pat, who now lives in the Phoenix area. Ted and Pat still stay in contact and visit often.
Returning to the Industry
Retiring from Midwest in 1988, Ted was enjoying life playing golf anytime he wanted and traveling with his wife Terry when in 1990, the NAPF asked him to serve as executive director. He was tired of the “vacation” he was on, so he accepted the offer and began to travel with Terry in their RV visiting NAPF member shops around the United States.
It was soon determined by the NAPF board that certification complying with American Water Works Association (AWWA) standards for flanged pipe and fittings should be adopted, so Ted contracted with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to administer the certification. Later the name was officially changed to the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) as the inspector and certifier.
Ted also was elected to serve on the AWWA A21 Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the standards for ductile iron pipe, and the C606 Committee, which regulates the standard for grooved pipe and fittings. During his time as NAPF’s executive director, Ted wrote a quarterly newsletter, solicited new members and planned all board meetings and annual membership meetings. The association continued to add new members and became an industry force.
Ted retired (again) in 2012. His impact during his more than 57 years in this vital piping business industry cannot be denied. The associated he founded and was an active member of for 35 years — 22 of those years as the executive director — has continued to be a force in the industry. If you know anything about this type of pipe fabrication business, growing from a mere five members from the get-go to more than 25 members today across the country says volumes.
Life gives us all twists and turns as we grow in this world. Most all are unexpected, I suppose, but how we handle them makes us what we are in life.
Recently my wife and I were house guests of Ted and Terry in Oklahoma City. We enjoyed great food and wine while we recalled with laughter and tears of joy over our years of friendship. I’m honored to call Ted Wright my friend — and to tell the industry about his incredible life.
I’ll leave you with Ted’s favorite saying, “Better to be a has been than a never was!”