In the Spotlight • Bruce Dice

A sense of adventure and the thrill of risk-taking experienced in the Michigan oil fields 60 years ago set Bruce Dice on his life’s course. His father, who worked for Smith Petroleum, took the young Dice along in the early 1940s to the newly discovered fields northeast of Big Rapids. There he helped with everything from buying and moving abandoned farmhouses into a company town to laying a telephone line. “There was no electricity, no telephones, no gas, the roads were impossible—it was real frontier,” Dice laughed.

Bruce Dice
Bruce Dice

At Smith, Dice met the company’s geologist, who showed him the science and explained the gamble of oil exploration. The teenager was hooked.

In 1946 he enrolled at Calvin, long an alma mater of Dice family members. Though Calvin had no geology major, Dice was not without a guide. “Doc (John) DeVries saw what I was trying to do, and he made sure I got what I needed at Calvin in order to go on,” he said.

"Going on” took Dice, then a junior, to the University of Michigan, and then to Michigan State for master’s work. By 1956, when he finished his master’s degree in geology, there were no jobs in Michigan’s oil fields. So he took an offer from Standard Oil of California and left home for the larger fields of Louisiana and then Texas.

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In the next 25 years Dice learned the new computerized technologies of oil geology and how to manage its large financial risks—learning that paid off in a 69 percent success rate for his wildcat wells, the best in the industry at the time. In 1982 he and two friends formed their own successful oil exploration company. Though he tried to retire in the early 1990s, within a year Bruce Dice was back in the business. To help him run the new Wadi Petroleum, Inc., he recruited his banker son, Kevin, to manage the finances and his computer scientist son, Kirk, to develop computer models for successful oil discovery.

Forming a new company at the age of 66, Dice began to ask some new questions of the future. “I started to ask, ‘What about Bruce Dice the rest of the way? How’s he going to play the game?’” To help him with answers he put together a “Bruce Dice study group”—a lawyer, a tax expert, a financial advisor and a businessman—that met with Dice the second Tuesday morning of every month for a year. The group probed him about his core values and how he was going to express his Christianity with his resources.

Dice’s first response was to endow a scholarship fund at Calvin. The Bruce Dice Scholarship, renewable for four years, is awarded to a student who, without Dice’s help, would not likely be able to attend Calvin.

It was important to Dice to fund a student for all four years of his or her education and to make each year’s award sizeable—“more than a toe-in-the-water kind of thing,” he said. Dice wants Calvin students to be able to finish their educations and then go out and “spread their wings in the world.” Traveling for business and pleasure and meeting people from around the world, Dice has found that Calvin graduates stand out. They embody intellectual keenness knit together with compassion and integrity that, in Dice’s experience, win the respect of the people around them. “They expand Christianity’s scope in the world,” he said. “They let people know Christianity is a noble thing.”

Not surprisingly for a man experienced in risking and managing large sums in business, Dice draws a parallel between his funding of a scholarship and Jesus’ parable of the talents. “This is what I’ve been given,” he says. “In 100 years I can help educate 25 people, and they’ll go out and expand the Kingdom. I’m funding evangelists.”