October 30, 1922 to September 2, 2020
Charles H. Wright, 97, died peacefully in his home in Overland Park, Kan., on September 2, 2020, surrounded by three loving daughters. He lost his wife of 68 years one week earlier; Esther, 89, passed away at their home on August 26, 2020. He was also preceded in death by his parents Hubert Bryan Wright and Emma Elizabeth (Wafel) Wright of Appleton City, Mo., and two sisters, Lorna (George) Borland, Butler, Mo.; and Dorothy (John) Chappell, Pleasant Hill, Mo. He leaves two sons, Kenton (Ann) of Ozark, Mo.; and Jeffrey (Sara) of Seattle, Wash.; and three daughters, Lynne Wright of Flagstaff, Ariz.; Sandra Wilson (Kim Petersen) of Bremerton, Wash.; and Janis Wright of Overland Park, Kan., as well as 14 grandchildren and many great grandchildren.
Charles was born on October 30, 1922, in Appleton City, Mo. He grew up and attended school in Appleton City and graduated from Appleton City High School in 1940. As a young boy he often assisted his father who ran the harness shop in town. When horses were replaced by machines, the work transitioned to other jobs such as repair of leather threshing belts, replacement of celluloid windows in early cars, and then shoe repair.
Education was a high priority in his home, and his natural curiosity about the world — coupled with his exceptional intelligence — led Charles to self-teach in many areas, including chemistry and aviation. He often said, “Once you can read, the world opens up to you, and you can learn anything.” He believed that with hard work, perseverance, and enough energy, anything can be achieved.
After high school, Charles enrolled in college at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo. During that time, the United States entered World War II. Charles enlisted in the Army, but after testing he was placed with a group of students who were initially allowed to continue their education. Eventually, however, he was deployed as a medic in the 84th Armored Medical Battalion, 14th Armored Division, and the Medical Detachment of Company H in the 45th Infantry Division. He was shipped overseas and saw action in France and Germany. While in Germany he aided in the liberation of the concentration camps. On return to the U.S., he finished his last six months of duty at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas.
Charles then finished a B.S. degree in chemistry at the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, Mo., in 1945. He completed his master’s and doctorate degrees in analytical chemistry in 1948 and 1952 at the University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo. There he met Esther May Johnson and they married on August 3, 1952. Their first child was born in Missouri when Charles was working as a post-doctorate teacher and Esther was finishing her degree.
In1954, Charles accepted a position at U.S. Radium Corporation, Bloomsburg, Penn., and relocated to nearby Berwick, Penn. There he worked on practical applications of radioactive materials. Three more children were born in Pennsylvania.
In 1958, Charles accepted a position at Spencer Chemical Company Research Center in Merriam, Kan., where he worked until he retired. During his career there, ownership of the laboratory changed from Spencer to Pittsburg and Midway Coal Company, division of Gulf Oil, and later Chevron Oil Corporation. Their fifth child was born in Kansas.
Charles devoted most of his research career at Spencer to coal refinement. He developed and patented processes for making liquid coal that could be distilled to gasoline and other oils that would burn with reduced toxic emissions. In developing these processes, he taught himself how to write computer code so that he could manage equations involving hundreds of variables that would influence the output of product. He oversaw a pilot plant for coal liquefaction in Tacoma, Wash., and was recognized as a world leader in research in this field. However, funding for these projects was discontinued in the 1980s.
As supervisor of the analytical chemistry research division at Spencer, he also worked on many other projects including some of the earliest developments in applications for plastics, fertilizers, and refining micro-analytic techniques.
Apart from work, Charles was centered on his family and helping to raise his children to be high achievers. He had a genial disposition and loved limericks and jokes. He was especially known for his cannibal jokes and often greeted his children each morning with a new joke. He was kind, polite, gallant, and believed in helping others whenever needed.
Charles also enjoyed the outdoors and took his family on extended camping trips to canoe, hike and explore nature. Trips were often westward with loops into the deserts of the Southwest or Northwest along the Oregon and Washington coasts. On other trips, loops extended north to the Canadian Rockies or south to Padre Island, Tex. A favorite destination was Grand Teton National Park, Wyo., where he enjoyed canoeing on Jackson Lake and the Snake River, climbing mountains or fishing in the streams and lakes. The family returned to the Tetons to celebrate Charles and Esther’s 50th wedding anniversary.
During retirement, Charles enjoyed his extensive library to satisfy his curiosity in many fields of interest. He also enjoyed watching professional sports teams, listening to opera, and cooking. It was not unusual for him to combine these activities simultaneously — he would read while watching TV or listening to music, cooking, and working on the computer. He had a unique ability to multitask. His thoughts were immersed in chemistry and he often applied chemical principles in everyday life.
Private family services are planned. In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to Sigma Xi at https://ecommerce.sigmaxi.org/ecom/#Donate
Friend ,Springfield ,Illinois
Your dad was one of the kindest, most gracious men I have ever known. I enjoyed many after dinner discussions with him on a wide variety of subjects from chemistry to his role in World War II to problems in the world today. Whenever I had something that needed fixing, he was always there to fix it. He was like a second father in some ways and was always happy to include me in family gatherings. He was a dear friend. My condolences, Chris
friend ,Buckner ,Missouri
Oh Janis, so sorry for your losses! It's sad but also touching that your parents left within a week. You have my sympathy.
Family Friend ,Camdenton ,Missouri
Esther and Charles memory of our college days together, as well as watching their beautiful children become great with their many talents, will sustain us through many years to come. Thank you, Wright family, for being so wonderful, caring and understanding friends. Rest in Peace and Happiness. Will be saying the Rosary in your Honor every chance I have. Love you. Jimmie Lee