John E. Kilkenny was born in Salinas, California, a third-generation Californian. His father, a high school principal, started his interest in geology early by talking to him about the rocks in the Salina area. His mother, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, taught Latin, English and Algebra at Salinas High School.
He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1935 with a degree in Geology, and although it was the depths of the Great Depression, he managed to find work as a geophysicist until Pure Oil Company hired him to work in Bakersfield as a Geologist. While in Bakersfield he met and married Dorothy Mattingly and their marriage prospered for more than half a century.
When Pure Oil Co. ceased operations in California, John joined the newly formed geology department of Chanslor-Canfield Midway Oil Co., rising to the position of Chief Geologist before leaving to join Union Oil Co. of California in 1951, where he worked until retirement.
One of his fondest memories was the discovery of the Las Cienegas field in the center of downtown Los Angeles by Union Oil Company under his guidance as the Chief Geologist of the Pacific Coast Division.
His career in petroleum exploration was put on hold when he was moved into Union Oil’s Geothermal Division as Vice-President of Exploration. Upon his retirement from Union Oil, he returned to his first love of Petroleum Exploration as and independent and consultant.
His on-going contributions to the Pacific Section of AAPG, to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and to our profession in general were so significant that he was awarded the Association’s highest honor, the Sidney Powers Memorial Medal, in 1991.
John Kilkenny was truly a gentleman in the finest sense of the word. He was a leader and inspiration for young and old explorationists, and was always available to help anyone in need. He never, however, permitted his many activities to interfere with his devotion to Dorothy and their three children.
The John E. Kilkenny Memorial Grant is awarded annually to a deserving graduate student enrolled at a college or university (public or private) located in the Pacific Section AAPG, for geologic studies of the Pacific Section area. The Kilkenny Grant is given through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Grants-in-Aid program, and is endowed by the AAPG Foundation with generous contributions from the Pacific Section AAPG and many of his friends and family members.