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Oklahoma State University

The official magazine of Oklahoma State University

Scholarship Aids Chemists

A Matter of Chemistry

Couple allows aspiring chemists a chance to thrive.

Story by Lorene A. Roberson

Joy Kerfoot calls her husband Mr. Soap Suds. His colleagues nicknamed him Mr. Detergent.

These days, OSU chemistry students refer to the 1949 alumnus as benefactor after Oliver Carl Kerfoot and his wife provided money for the Oliver C. and
Joy P. Kerfoot Endowed Scholarship. 

Now retired, Carl Kerfoot’s research lab at Conoco was at the forefront of creating environmentally friendly household products. He and his partners hold 26 patents pertaining to the manufacture and use of synthetic detergent chemicals.

As a child in Arkansas, Kerfoot was enamored with chemistry.

“The idea of being able to convert one substance — a molecule — into another substance was very exciting and intriguing to me,” says the native of Pocahontas, Ark.

That interest led Kerfoot to Oklahoma A&M, where he majored in chemistry and minored in math. He spent hours in a lab filled with what is now considered rather makeshift equipment in the old chemistry building.

His favorite chemistry professors, Otis C. Dermer and Ernest M. Hodnett, encouraged the young man’s hypothetical experiments.

“Back then, there were only Bunsen burners and very little fancy equipment,” he says. “What was best was being allowed to spend an entire semester just trying to make something work.”

Ponca City residents Carl and Joy Kerfoot provided $75,000 to endow the Oliver C. and Joy P. Kerfoot Endowed Scholarship benefiting chemistry students at OSU. It qualifies for $112,500 from the estate of T. Boone Pickens through the Pickens Legacy Scholarship Match. When fully endowed, it will produce $9,375 per year in student support.

After college, Kerfoot served in the Army during the Korean War, working in a medical laboratory in Cape Cod, Mass., before being sent to a similar job in Tokyo.

In 1952, he went to work for Conoco in Ponca City, Okla. Kerfoot was one of the earlier researchers hired in the Conoco Chemicals Division, which later became Vista Chemical Co., and eventually Sasol Chemical Co.

Kerfoot and others in Conoco’s chemicals division became the first to develop a biodegradable laundry and dishwashing detergent material and the process for making it.

“When the issue of environmentally friendly chemicals arose around the world, Conoco Chemicals was the first company to develop and offer for sale a biodegradable detergent raw material,”
he says.

Kerfoot traveled around the world — Japan, Thailand, India and Europe — to promote the new detergent chemical. And Joy Kerfoot, a nurse by profession, joined her husband on many of his journeys.

“That was his bailiwick and his claim to fame,” she says.

In 1991, Kerfoot retired. He and Joy remain in Ponca City. 

They have two children: Robert, a 1980 OSU alumnus, and Karen, a University of Central Oklahoma graduate. They have two grandchildren and two great-granddaughters, 8 and 3, who keep them busy and young at heart.

“I look back on my career with much fondness,” he says. “It more than met my expectations and goals, which I had set out in the beginning.

“What more could one ask?”