BROWNWOOD – September 30, 2015 – Retired Howard Payne University faculty member Marie Gramann doesn’t consider herself a pioneer in geology, but from a young age the field held natural appeal.
“I was thirteen years old when I decided I wanted to be a geologist,” she said. “I don’t know why. I was raised in Cuero, a small town between San Antonio and Houston. There were no geologists there at the time.”
Gramann went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in geology in 1936 from The University of Texas, one of the first women to earn that particular degree from the institution. She spent the next several years working for oil companies in San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Austin before arriving in Brownwood to teach at HPU.
Gramann’s story – and the stories of several other women in the field – caught the attention of Robbie Gries, past president of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). Gries is compiling interviews for a book and film on women geologists in petroleum from 1918 through the late 1980s.
“She is a delight,” said Gries of Gramann. “As I enjoy the late years of my career, I have taken on a project to honor the real pioneers in our field.”
While the project is a few years away from completion, friends and former colleagues are thrilled that Gramann will be recognized in this way.
Betty Broome, who retired from HPU in 2012 as executive assistant to the president, said Gramann was one of the first friends she made on campus when she came to the university in 1986.
“Miss Gramann was a friend to faculty and staff, and enjoyed getting to know the students in her classes,” Broome said. “Though retired for many years, she can still carry on a lively discussion about fracking!”
Gramann has been a member of AAPG for more than 60 years and is a past member of geological societies in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Austin and Abilene.
“She knows so much about geology,” said Margaret Blagg, a family friend. “She knows everything about the geology of this area.”
With Gramann’s membership in the organization, she also receives the AAPG Explorer magazine. Gramann herself was featured in the magazine in 2013.
“She has a keen interest in them,” Blagg said. “She reads every issue cover to cover.”
Following her career in the oil industry, Gramann moved to Brownwood in the 1960s to be nearer to family. She was approached by a friend, the late Dr. George Baker, who was then head of Howard Payne’s music department.
“He said, ‘Why don’t you let me make an appointment for you with the dean? They don’t have anyone to teach geology,’” said Gramann. “I had never taught before in my life.”
Gramann signed a teaching contract on a Saturday in 1965. School began the following week.
“Nobody in his or her right mind would do what I did,” Gramann said, laughing.
That Monday and Tuesday, she drove to Austin and Waco to consult with colleagues at The University of Texas and Baylor University. They gave her a few rocks and minerals to begin her lab and suggested a textbook and lab manual.
Gramann stayed busy as a first-year teacher.
“I would read and read and read, then type a lecture, then go to school, then come home and read and read and read,” she said. “I made it, somehow.”
Some of her favorite memories from Howard Payne include geology field trips with students and a concert the band dedicated in her honor. A page in the 1974 Lasso yearbook reads, “Because of the inspiration she has given us in friendship, in professionalism, in scholarship and in personal conduct, the 1974 Lasso is dedicated to Marie Gramann, assistant professor of geology.”
Dr. Jack Stanford, professor emeritus of biology who retired from HPU in 1999, worked closely with Gramann.
“Students loved her,” he said. “She knows her subject very, very well. She loved field trips and was always well prepared for them. She knows absolutely everything about the geology of Brown County.”
Gramann said she’s a “people person.”
“I just enjoyed everything about teaching at Howard Payne,” she said.
She retired in 1990 following 25 years of teaching. She still laughs when she thinks about her start at Howard Payne.
“The one thing I never, ever intended to do was teach,” she said. “Don’t ever say what you never intend to do, because you might do it.”
Brownwood resident Gene Deason, a 1972 HPU graduate, said Gramann was not only one of the best professors he had at the university, but also one of the dearest individuals he has ever had the honor to know.
“Her enthusiasm for the subject she taught was contagious,” he said. “Students had to find out what all her excitement was about when we went on field trips and discovered how many stories those rocks and dirt could tell. What started out as a science class needed for my degree turned into an unending appreciation of what the layers of earth lying just below our feet, or visible due to excavations for highways, can tell us about the past.”
After he graduated, Deason became better acquainted with Gramann as a fellow member of the community.
“I came to appreciate not only her professionalism and knowledge, but also her goodness and kindness,” he said. “I am thankful God put me in her path.”
Photo cutline: Marie Gramann, right, is pictured in the field with classmates from The University of Texas. The students were the first female participants in UT’s geology field course. Photo courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences.
The 1974 Lasso yearbook was dedicated in Marie Gramann’s honor. She is pictured, in a photo from the yearbook, in her office at HPU.