Surprise bequest from devoted couple
provides scholarships in the natural sciences

Winter 2019

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Brilliant, devoted and extremely private, Kenneth and Joye Harwell surely would have brushed aside accolades for a $3.18 million estate gift to the University of Oklahoma Foundation.

But they deserve every word.

OU was one of four universities recently to receive equal portions of the Harwells’ estate. Though Joye Harwell was an Oklahoma native who earned a 1943 OU bachelor’s degree in chemistry, the couple never told OU of their bequest to benefit students in the natural sciences.

“Once in a while, a transformative gift comes quite unexpectedly,” said OU College of Arts and Sciences Dean David M. Wrobel. “The Harwells’ gift could not have come at a more fortuitous moment for Arts and Sciences as we work to make President Gallogly’s vision of doubling research on the Norman campus a firm reality.

“Having the newfound ability to expand our need-based support to undergraduate and graduate students working in biology, physics, chemistry and biochemistry, and microbiology and plant biology will help us place the very best students in the labs of our outstanding natural science faculty and facilitate research.”

The then-Joye Murphy studied chemistry and mathematics when few OU women majored in the natural sciences. She soon went to work at the laboratories of Humble Oil and Refining Co. in Houston and pursued a master’s degree in chemistry with a minor in physics at the University of Texas. Joye worked part-time as a research assistant in the school’s labs; post-graduation, she continued working there for nine years.

While still a student, Joye had become friends with Texas native Kenneth Harwell, who was completing a 1947 master’s in chemistry and physics and went on to earn a UT doctoral degree in organic and physical chemistry in 1951.

Kenneth embarked upon a series of corporate jobs as a research chemist and formed the Texas Fine Chemical Co. in Austin. He and Joye reunited and were married in 1961. The couple worked as chemists for Conoco in Ponca City, Okla., and later moved to Kansas, where Kenneth owned the Merriam Chemical Development Co. His research was regularly published, and he held multiple patents.

Joye’s family owned large ranchlands in Oklahoma. But upon retiring, the Harwells purchased a 40-acre farm in Skiatook, Okla., where they became neighbors and beloved friends of Lloyd and Connie Rose for 20 years. “You could not meet or know better people than those two,” Lloyd Rose said.

Rose said that the Harwells lived very simply. He recalled inviting them to join his family for Christmas and presenting the couple stockings filled with fruit and nuts. “Neither of them had ever had a Christmas stocking,” Rose said. “Tears were running down Joye’s face, they were so excited.”

The much-younger Roses became trusted help when the Harwells’ health declined. In their 90s, the Harwells once took refuge at the Roses’ farm while recovering from back-to-back hospitalizations. Rose brought Kenneth home from the hospital on Christmas Eve.

“Joye goes over and sits on his lap in the wheelchair and they’re kissing and hugging,” Rose said. “It was like two little kids. My wife and I were sitting there grinning, and I said, ‘Now, that is what life is supposed to be.’ ”

Kenneth died in June 2016 at age 95, and 94-year-old Joye followed him in death only two months later. “She just quit,” Rose said. “They could not be apart.”

Rose said his friends would be thrilled that OU is turning their bequest into scholarships for students in the natural sciences. “That’s exactly what they wanted. Exactly.”