The Remarkable Norval Knouse
A step back with an employee who witnessed it all
Norval Knouse is in the midst of a remarkable life. He was born to a farm family in 1913 in Wood County near Weston, Ohio. By 1936, Knouse was enrolled in Tiffin University, having already graduated from Marion Business College. While in Tiffin, Knouse received a telegram about a position at Ohio Oil (later Marathon Oil) and was given the advice by the Tiffin University president to wear a green tie to his interview. Knouse wore a TU-green tie and began a career with Ohio Oil and Marathon Oil that spanned 40 years. Today, at age 102, Knouse lives in Findlay, Ohio, and keeps up with Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC) through the local news media and his granddaughter Jayme Dillon.
“When I started at Ohio Oil, all men, regardless of age or education, started as messengers,” remembers Knouse. “This arrangement allowed us to see operations in all areas of the company. It helped us determine where we wanted to work, and allowed all the managers to see us in an informal setting to help them determine who they would like to invite to work in their group.”
Knouse enjoyed his time as a messenger and recalls how generous then-president Otto “O.D.” Donnell was to the young men.
“The Christmas I was a messenger,” says Knouse, “O.D. called all the messengers into his office and gave us each a tie. During the summer, O.D. offered to give us a golf lesson. He rented golf clubs for those men, like me, who did not own their own set, and then took us to the Findlay Country Club for our lesson. Another time, O.D. invited us on a trip with him to see the Robinson [Illinois] refinery. We enjoyed a tour of the refinery on a hot summer day, and then we spent a hot night in a Robinson hotel before returning to Findlay.”
Knouse quickly moved into the Illinois Pipe Line group, a subsidiary of Ohio Oil and the predecessor of Marathon Pipe Line. It was during his time in this group that Knouse’s draft number came up in 1943. Charles Bunje, Jr. was then president of the Illinois Pipe Line. When he heard that Knouse was being drafted, he asked Knouse’s manager to file a military II-A, a deferment because of occupational status for men necessary in their civilian activity. Bunje wanted to keep Knouse state-side and employed with Ohio Oil. Knouse declined the deferment, “I wanted to do my part,” he says simply.
Knouse served his country well during World War II. He joined the 3rd Infantry Division as a rifleman and fought with Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated combat soldiers of the war. Knouse joined the European theater at Anzio, Italy. After marching through Italy, the 3rd Infantry Division entered France.
“We were liberating town after town in France. I remember the thrill I felt when the French people came out to greet us. They brought us their choicest bottles of wine in appreciation, and the French girls came out to greet us warmly.
“The Third Division then created a race to Munich. My company was the first to reach it and I had the privilege of leading the whole Army into Munich the day of Hitler’s death.” Knouse recalls how the Germans cheered when the Americans marched into Munich. In English, they said, “Now we can sleep.”
Knouse earned several military awards and is most proud of his Combat Infantry Badge (CIB). The CIB is awarded to infantry persons who have fought in active ground combat. The CIB, regardless of the rank a person holds, is worn above all other awards above the left-breast pocket of the uniform. Knouse’s other military awards include four brass battle stars, each representing a battle in which he participated, and an award which represents an additional five battles in which he participated. Knouse also earned the French Fourragere in Colors of the Croix de guerre, which was authorized for all members of the 3rd Infantry Division who fought in France.
Knouse’s first wife, Evelyn, worked for Ohio Oil during the time he served with the army. Prior to World War II, women left the company when they married, but O.D. Donnell changed the policy during the war. Donnell made sure the wives were offered positions with the company while their husbands served their country.
After the war, Knouse returned to his wife and daughter in Findlay and came back to work at Ohio Oil. He was the supervisor over the typing pool, which Knouse refers to as “the prospective secretaries.” He says that it was during this time he began to appreciate women’s issues. He has been an advocate for women ever since.
By the time Knouse retired in 1976, he was fleet administrator, overseeing all the cars and trucks in the Marathon Oil fleet.
Knouse is proud of his time with Ohio Oil and Marathon Oil and is happy his granddaughter Jayme Dillon is an employee of MPC. Last year, Dillon accompanied Knouse on an Honor Flight to Washington D.C. While there, he placed a coin on the memorial for Audie Murphy, a symbol of having served in the war with Murphy.
Today, Knouse is still leading a remarkable life. He starts his day with the Wall Street Journal, which he believes provides the best report of what is happening around the world. He maintains his home, enjoys church, and visits with friends and family who stop by to see him. On occasion, his baby sister, Alice, aged 97, comes down from Cleveland for a visit.