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Oklahoma State University

The official magazine of Oklahoma State University

Remembering a Legend

OSU alumnus 'Ed' Malzahn leaves behind a legacy of generosity

Gus Edwin 'Ed' George Malzahn

When you think of a small, rural Oklahoma town, you don’t imagine regular visits from the FBI. But that is just what happened in 1935 and 1938, thanks to one curious and innovative teenager.

Gus Edwin George “Ed” Malzahn was always tinkering with the tools in his father’s blacksmith and machine shop during his childhood, which prompted interest from federal investigators. The mechanical engineering graduate of Oklahoma A&M College, now Oklahoma State University, took the interest of his youth and turned it into a successful career.

“He was very creative and innovative even at a young age,” says Tiffany Sewell-Howard, Mr. Malzahn’s granddaughter and executive chair of Charles Machine Works. “He was just so curious. From the time he was able to as a young child, he tinkered.”


Charles Machine Works began when Mr. Malzahn noticed the difficulty in laying residential utility lines with hand-dug trenches. In 1949, he invented his first mechanical trenching machine. The prototype started the brand known as Ditch Witch. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers recognized it as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 2002. The company has grown to a global scale and provides products, including more than half of the world’s trenching machines, in 195 countries.


“We always think about Perry, but there is a big impact worldwide by the number of dealerships and the people that work there,” Sewell-Howard says. “We employ close to 4,000 people within the family of companies and the dealer organization.”


Mr. Malzahn passed on December 11, 2015, leaving behind an engineering legacy and continuing to influence others through his passion for generosity and innovation. He never forgot his roots, keeping Perry as the global headquarters for Charles Machine Works and making sure the local community was always a priority.


“He set up a foundation for the benefit of Perry, so we can continue to support all the things that he loved and had a specific interest in,” Sewell-Howard says. “We will continue to support what he wanted to happen here.”


Mr. Malzahn’s generosity extended to his alma mater, as he provided scholarships to students at OSU.


“He just wanted to be in service to everything and everyone that helped him achieve what he achieved in his lifetime,” Sewell-Howard says. “He gave to OSU. He gave to Perry. Those were the people who supported him through his ups and downs.


“The world will remember him as an innovator, but he was so humble and unassuming. He was just a common man who had some great ideas. Everybody called him — very lovingly — Head Sprocket. It shows he is innovative, but it is still fun.”


Mr. Malzahn is survived by his three children, Don Malzahn and wife, Phyllis, of Wichita, Kansas; Pam Sewell and husband, David, of Perry, Oklahoma; and Meleasa Malzahn of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.


His nine grandchildren include Tiffany Sewell-Howard and husband, Dan, of Edmond, Oklahoma; Jason Sewell and wife, Katie; Cody Sewell and wife, April, all of Perry, Oklahoma; Zahn Wilkerson and wife, Kelly, of Chandler, Arizona; Courtney Darrah and husband, Will, of Wichita, Kansas; Sarah Malzahn of Englewood, Colorado; Matthew Wilkerson and wife, Briana, of Tempe, Arizona; Whitney Wilkerson of Chandler, Arizona; and Perry Malzahn and husband, Jason Brammer, of Wichita. He also has 14 great-grandchildren.


He was preceded in death by his parents, Charles and Bertha Malzahn; his wife, Mary; and one sister, Virginia Lamb.


OSU alumnus Ed Malzahn changed the engineering world with his innovations.



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Uploaded on September 1, 2016