Dr. A. P. Beutel - A True Legend
“Give a cheer for Beutel, the school for you and me…!!” Those of us who attended A. P. Beutel Elementary in the 1960s and 1970s may remember that as the opening line of our elementary school fight song. Dr. A. P. “Dutch” Beutel has been honored locally for a good reason; he is essentially the reason Lake Jackson was created!
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on November 13, 1892, Albert Phillip Beutel (“BOY tuhl”) studied at Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, OH, and graduated in Mining and Metallurgical Engineering. Case awarded him with an honorary doctorate in 1942.
Joining the Dow Chemical Company in 1916 in Midland, Michigan, as an engineering draftsman, he worked his way up to general manager by 1932.
June 1961 - Dedication of the first Saline Water Conversion Demonstration Plant built in Freeport, Texas.
In 1939, Dow Chemical was looking to build an expansion plant on the Gulf Coast in order to use its process of mining magnesium out of salt water to support the war effort. Dow officials, including Dr. Beutel and Willard Dow, president of Dow at the time, studied locales from New Orleans, Louisiana, down to Brownsville, Texas. As the coastal tour came to a close, Freeport, Texas, would be their chosen site.
Construction of the Texas Division of Dow began in 1940 and grew at a rapid pace. As a result, it became difficult for the massive influx of workers who were building and operating the plants to find living quarters. Therefore, Dr. Beutel, the site’s general manager, organized the construction of “Camp Chemical,” a temporary housing area around Freeport. At its pinnacle, “Camp Chemical” was the largest city in Brazoria County and home to more than 12,000 people.
Facing a basic decision as to what could be done to provide permanent living accommodations for the thousands of Dow employees already here and the thousands more to come, Dr. Beutel took some of the Dow leaders to explore nearby areas by horseback. They became intrigued with land not far from Freeport that was once the Abner Jackson plantation. Dr. Beutel decided this was the perfect spot to establish a completely new city. He appropriately chose the name of Lake Jackson, the name of the freshwater lake on the property. Among the group of “explorers” was Alden B. Dow, the architect brother of Willard Dow. Beutel assigned him the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of designing an entire city from the ground up.
Beutel continued to be general manager of Dow’s Texas Operations. According to an interview in 1953, he was responsible for directing the operations of a $200,000,000 plant producing 65 basic chemicals with 5,800 employees. As busy and fast paced as his job was, he enjoyed his after-work hours at his home on the lake in Lake Jackson. His hobbies included woodworking, ceramics, photography, stone cutting, the study of rocks and minerals, as well as tending to his cattle.
Dr. Beutel riding his horse, one of his favorite pastimes!
Bill Colegrove, a Dow employee who began his career in Midland, Michigan, had the honor of working for Dr. Beutel for many years. Below are stories and character traits of Dr. Beutel based on writings from Colegrove’s book, entitled, Episodes:
Beutel was famous for getting things done and had a strong nature and persuasive manner. Under his leadership, the early magnesium plants were built in record time.
Beutel had an innate ability to choose young people and groom them for top management and technical jobs at Dow. No doubt, the early success of the Texas Division was due to the people who Dr. Beutel put in place, including manufacturing leaders, construction managers, financial experts, lawyers, and office workers.
Beutel designed a special desk which was shaped like an artist’s palette so he “could look each assistant in the eye.”
During a particularly cold and rainy winter, a union strike was in process at the plant site. Beutel ordered rubber boots for the strikers on the picket line and some scrap lumber so they could build a fire to stay warm. When asked why he did that, he responded, “Those fellows were my men before they went on strike, and they’ll be my men when it’s over.”
He valued good quality – both in furnishings and food.
Beutel gave Alden Dow specifications for an office desk, designed in the shape of an artist’s palette, so he could look every one of his assistants directly in the eye. This desk is on display on the second floor of the Lake Jackson Historical Museum and is currently used for Board meetings.
When the lodge was added at the Brazoria Reservoir, Dr. and Mrs. Beutel trained the cooks, who went on to serve the finest meals around.
Beutel was a stickler for promptness. Nearly every day, planes were flying from the Dow Airport in Lake Jackson to Michigan. Dr. Beutel chose the flight times. If he chose 7:30, he meant that at precisely 7:30 the Dow plane’s wheels would be pulling into the fuselage as the minute hand passed over the 7:30 mark. Many passengers who drove up at 7:30 ended up waving goodbye!
He was Informal by nature and a man who, at heart, believed that living and working were great fun. Even though it was tradition in his day for an industrial executive to dress formally, he was often seen wearing sports clothes.
He enjoyed moments when people disagreed, believing that it brought progress. He despised “yes” men.
In his later years, he gave much of his time to serving universities. In 1963, he was appointed to the Texas A&M Board of Directors. He previously had served as a regent of Lamar University. He was also a member of the advisory committee of the University of Texas executive development program and of the Rice University Associates.
Dr. Beutel apparently did not believe in early retirement – at least for himself! He was a vice president, member of the board, and a member of the executive committee when he retired from Dow in January, 1971 at age 78. He served the company for 55 years! He died less than two years later on November 27, 1972 at the age of 80. His obituary appeared in The New York Times.
Teachers and students who have attended A.P. Beutel Elementary can be proud of their school’s namesake. When being honored for his 50 years of service to Dow, it was said, “He is a man of boundless energy and drive, a man of ideas and imagination. He is, at the same time, practical, persevering and proud. But most of all, Dutch Beutel is the pioneering personality of the chemical industry in the Southwest.”
by Frances Hammond