For a self-described “small-town country boy,” Bill Spears has plenty to boast about.
With successful careers in engineering, strategic development, and analysis, managing energy companies and addressing legal and business issues as an attorney, Spears has earned numerous professional and personal accolades, awards, and honors over the past 40 years.
So accomplished is Spears that his alma mater – Rogers State University – selected him as the inaugural recipient of the Hill Legacy Award, to be bestowed upon him at the Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner April 29 at 6 p.m. in the Dr. Carolyn Taylor Center Ballroom on the RSU campus in Claremore.
Spears said many of the lessons he learned which would lead to his successes were instilled in him while he was attending Rogers State University, back when it was still Claremore Junior College.
“When I was in the ninth or tenth grade, I wanted to be a nuclear engineer,” Spears recalled. “Part of this was driven by seeing my dad who worked for what was then North American Rockwell. He’d worked on the Apollo program, he and another man were sort of the designers for the wings of the original B-1 Bomber, he was part of a group that worked on the chemical composition for what would ultimately become the shuttle bay doors. He was a great inspiration on me.”
So motivated was Spears by his father’s example that he excelled at school – graduating from Sequoyah High School in 1975 as valedictorian – and was ready academically, if not yet financially, to continue his education.
“While I was still a senior, I sent a letter to the University of Oklahoma to apply for a scholarship, but they told me I was a little late (to apply),” he said. “There had been a representative from Claremore Junior College talk to the seniors at my high school and after his presentation, I approached him and told him I was going to be valedictorian. He told me that they could get me a scholarship (to CJC) and the next thing I knew, I was sitting with (former CJC president) Dr. (Richard) Mosier and getting a Presidential Scholarship.”
While at CJC, Spears was a peer counselor, president of the Student Senate, named to the President’s Honor Roll, named Outstanding President of a student Organization, was on the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature and the Phi Theta Kappa Honorary Fraternity.
“The smaller class sizes (at CJC) really made a difference – they helped me tremendously,” Spears said. “The professors were much more available, much more approachable to offer one-to-one help to the students, and with me, I was in their office almost daily.”
Spears said the firm educational foundation he received at CJC set the standard for the rest of his education and work career.
“I was very proud of what I accomplished on the Hill, graduating with almost straight A’s except for one B I made in a class my last semester,” he said. “I was very ambitious and focused. Even if I may not have been the smartest student in my classes, I was willing to work hard – to work harder than everyone around me, and that made a difference. That was a habit I kept throughout my many years in college. The professors here made all the difference in my success.”
In 1977, he graduated summa cum laude with an Associate of Science. He continued his education at the University of Oklahoma, graduating in 1980 with a Bachelor of Nuclear Engineering with special distinction.
Despite his intention of becoming a nuclear engineer, his goals were diverted during his senior year at OU, prompted by the Three Mile Island accident.
“Part of the reason I went into nuclear engineering was that PSO announced they were going to build two nuclear units by Inola called Black Fox, and I was glad that I wasn’t going to have to go to either of the coasts to work in nuclear engineering. I could stay right here,” he said. “Obviously, Black Fox never came to pass, but God opened up a door for me – one that I didn’t know about at the time – but which led to my career with PSO.”
Over the years, Spears has had several different titles – engineer, manager, even attorney, as he later earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Tulsa College of Law – at several workplaces: PSO, Central and South West Corporation and TXU Energy (both in Dallas, Texas), and Segrest and Segrest, PC (in McGregor, Texas), semi-retiring in 2019 and ultimately moving back to where it all started – Claremore.
“When I think back to my essentially nine years of college education, it was my time here in Claremore at CJC – now Rogers State University – that I think of as my favorite,” he said. “I became friends with several of my professors and made some lifelong friends. It was a great honor for me to have been selected as a Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.”
Spears and his fellow award recipients will be recognized at the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner April 29. Other honorees include Dr. Andrea Hunt and Rhett Ables, who have been named winners of the RSU Distinguished Hillcat Award and the RSU Alumni Rising Star Award, respectively.
The awards were presented based on the recipients’ personal achievements and service; statewide, regional, and/or national distinction; and bringing honor to themselves and Rogers State University.
Tickets for the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award Dinner may be purchased at www.rsu.edu/alumni/alumni-awards/#tickets. Individual tickets for the dinner are $50, while various sponsorship levels are also available.