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1/27/2010

Family of Haskell and Irene Lemon make largest gift in the history of the OU College of Architecture

The largest gift in the history of the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture has been made by the family of Haskell and Irene Lemon of Oklahoma City in support of OU’s award-winning Division of Construction Science.

OU President David Boren announced the $3 million gift at the January meeting of the Board of Regents, which approved naming the division “The Haskell and Irene Lemon Construction Science Division” in honor of the late Mr. Lemon and his wife, Irene, founders of Haskell Lemon Construction Co.  

Now operated by third-generation family members, Haskell Lemon Construction Co. is one of Oklahoma’s largest and most successful construction companies, specializing in building roads in the state. 

The Lemon family’s gift will fund endowments that will support student scholarships and fellowships, faculty enrichment and construction science enrichment programs.  Construction Science, which marked its 25th anniversary in 2008, is one of five divisions in the OU College of Architecture.  The division has earned a national reputation as a top program, with its competition teams, student club and individual students winning numerous national awards and scores of regional awards.

“The University of Oklahoma is deeply appreciative of this gift from the Lemon family and to honor their gift with the naming of the Division of Construction Science for Haskell and Irene Lemon,” Boren said.  “This exceptional and enduring contribution will help our nationally recognized construction science program continue to offer outstanding educational opportunities for our students.”

Haskell Lemon, a 1938 OU business alumnus, enjoyed long and productive careers in the construction business, land development and banking.  He and Irene, who also attended OU, were partners in life and in business. 

Larry Lemon, spokesman for the family, said, “Our parents and their leadership made a significant impact on the construction industry.  The family recognizes the important contributions of the OU Construction Science Division and is pleased to participate in its continued growth and excellence. It is a fitting legacy for Haskell and Irene Lemon to facilitate outstanding educational opportunities for men and women who choose construction as a career.”  

Following his OU graduation, Haskell worked for Allis-Chalmers Tractors, which led to his lifelong fascination with machinery and the economic forces of agriculture and construction, his family said.  When he was 30, he moved from selling farm equipment to selling Caterpillar heavy construction equipment and, a year later, purchased a used D-3 dozer.  Encouraged by his wife, he began building farm ponds.  They then started a second business, forming the Hi -Test Lime Co. for the mining of agricultural limestone, before establishing Haskell Lemon Construction Co. in 1948.  

Mr. Lemon also was involved with Homesite Developers, which was active in Oklahoma City and Edmond, and served as chairman of Town and Country Bancshares, Inc., holding company for Oklahoma State Bank in Guthrie, north Edmond, Coyle and Mulhall.

Lemon was the first in his family to attend college and claimed he only went because his girlfriend, Irene, told him he should. After graduating from Enid High School in 1933, he worked a year for OG&E and then enrolled at OU.  Irene transferred to OU her junior year and studied microbiology.  Both held jobs while attending OU – Irene typed notes for an OU government professor, and Haskell worked at a Campus Corner drugstore and as a houseboy at the Delta Delta Delta sorority. 

In the next generation, two of their children attended OU, as did their spouses. Their daughter, Lynette, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from OU.  Her husband, Pete Wert, received his bachelor’s degree in geology in 1960.  Son Larry Lemon earned his bachelor’s degree in business and an MBA degree from OU and married Susan Taylor, who holds an OU bachelor’s degree in education.

Haskell and Irene’s grandchildren arrived on campus in the 1980s and 1990s.  Four grandchildren hold degrees from OU.  Mr. and Mrs. Lemon were very proud of their family connections to OU and on his 90th birthday, Haskell told the four generations assembled, “I'm glad education agrees with you!  I'm proud of the teachers, medical doctors, lawyers, professors, business leaders, coaches, and gerontologists we’ve produced.  Always remember that the important thing with success and education is to ‘Pass it on’.”

Mr. and Mrs. Lemon retired from the company in 1984.  Pete Wert joined the company in 1964 and retired in 2000.  Larry Lemon joined after earning his MBA in 1966 and retired in December 2009.  The company continues to grow and prosper under the leadership of Haskell and Irene’s grandsons, Kenneth Wert, Bob Lemon and Jay Lemon. Equally important is industry participation.  Haskell and Irene Lemon were among the original founding members of the National Asphalt Pavement Association.  Pete Wert served as national president of Associated General Contractors of America in 1998-99 and Larry Lemon took office as National Asphalt Pavement Association chairman this month.

Mr. and Mrs. Lemon celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on June 1, 2007.  Mr. Lemon died on Aug. 16, 2007, just a month before his 92nd birthday.

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