The 2006 SME Distinguished Member Award
Awarded To: Oscar M. Wicken
In recognition and appreciation of outstanding service to the minerals industry and to the Society.
Oscar M. Wicken was born Jan. 16, 1913 in Spokane, WA to Norwegian immigrants. He died Apr. 3, 2005 in Florida at the age of 92.
Wicken was an active member of SME for 61 years and a member of the Legion of Honor. He traveled to SME meetings until he was almost 90. Of all the places he lived, he called Pittsburgh, PA home the longest. It remained the sentimental home that he frequently returned to visit while spending most of the last years in Florida. In the course of a busy, challenging and productive life, he was a remarkable man who left a deep impression on those he met.
As a young boy, Wicken listened to his father recite experiences from his days of working in the Continental Mine in Northern Idaho. Subsequent years of listening to old-time prospectors reminiscing about experiences in the gold, lead, silver and copper operations in the West helped fix his goal to work in the minerals industry. After earning his M.S. in metallurgical engineering from the University of Idaho in 1941, he went to work for Northwest Magnesite in Chewelah, WA. He later transferred to their seawater magnesia operation in Cape May, NJ as plant manager. In 1952, he was hired by Foote Mineral in Kingsport, TN to be the manager of the plant being constructed for production of lithium hydroxide used in nuclear weaponry. In 1955, he accepted an offer from Bonneville in Salt Lake City, UT to become general manager of their potash operation based on solar evaporation.
Finally, in 1956, Wicken joined Harbison Walker Refractories in Pittsburgh as director of refractory technology for mineral and nonferrous industries. He also became manager of their nuclear activities function. During this time, he gave lectures to university engineering students and obtained several patents. In 1966, he became director of international operations for the Harbison Walker divisions of Dresser Industries and director of Refractorios Peruanos (Lima) and Refractorios Chilenos (Santiago).
While living in Tennessee and Pennsylvania, Wicken also found time to lead Boy Scout troops on geology expeditions, direct and act in community theater, build rock walls and rebuild antique furniture. He constantly made improvements by his own hands to his homes and was involved with his children, teaching them poetry and encouraging their individual interests.
In 1972, Wicken became vice president of Market Development and, in 1975, vice president of Operations-Middle East, Africa and India. He was deputy managing director of IREFCO in Tehran, Iran and built a refractory plant in Esfahan. He managed to get the plant ready to operate before fleeing Iran in December 1978 as the Shah’s government collapsed. He retired from the Harbison Walker division of Dresser Industries and started a consulting group, SRM Associates, to serve the minerals industry. Among his many clients were Orissa Industries in India and Ceramica Carabobo in Venezuela. His work took him to countries all over the world where he worked with people from all sorts of backgrounds. In 1994, Wicken received the Hal Williams Hardinge Award from AIME. The citation read, "Distinguished metallurgical and mining engineer, lecturer and operations executive. In recognition of outstanding accomplishments in the development| of refractory mineral resources and production technology worldwide."
Wicken was preceded in death by his wife, Ida, and son, Dr. Jeffrey Wicken. He is survived by his wife, Jean Surdock; daughters, Constance Wicken and Jessica Wicken; two granddaughters and two great-grandsons. His broad outlook, calm and steady nature and good humor made him welcome wherever he traveled. He will be sorely missed.
The Distinguished Member Award, established in 1975, is presented to a select few who have distinguished themselves by demonstrating significant and sustained contributions to the minerals industry and to SME. There must be some contributions to both the industry and SME, though significant and sustained contributions can be to either one.
- Year of recipient's death: 2005