Merrill W. Haas was born in Albert, Kansas on July 9, 1910, to pioneer wheat farmers, Frederick and Ella (Keller) Haas. He began piano lessons at age seven – he loved music and wanted to be a dance band piano player. At age 17 he was playing in a band for $10 a night, but his parents urged him to seek an education.
After accompanying some friends who were making a topographic map of Shawnee County, Kansas, he decided to pursue geology as a career, and began his studies at the University of Kansas under R. C. Moore, one of the giants of the profession. In 1932 he received his B.S. in geology from the University of Michigan, and then went on to begin his graduate work at Harvard University. However, he didn’t have financial resources to complete his Master’s degree, so it was necessary for him to look for a job.
Times were hard, and jobs were scarce, but someone suggested he try to see Wallace Pratt at Humble Oil in Houston. Merrill arrived in Houston on Friday afternoon with just enough money to stay a couple of days. He went to the Humble building on Saturday, finding only the cleaning people in the lobby. He told them he had come from Kansas to see Wallace Pratt, and one of the cleaning ladies said, “He’s always here on Saturdays. Just go on up.”
Being naive, Merrill took her advice and went to Pratt’s office without introduction or referral and told him he was looking for a job. Pratt, a graduate of University of Kansas, greatly admired R. C. Moore. When he learned that Merrill had studied under Moore, he sent him to their micropaleontology lab to see L. T. “Slim” Barrow. Merrill was hired October 15, 1933, for $150 a month, and he worked for Humble and other subsidiaries of Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (now Exxon) until 1975 when he retired as vice president of exploration.
Merrill worked in Venezuela for Lago Petroleum and Standard Oil of Venezuela for fifteen years. While there he met Maria Lara, and they were married in 1944. He took great delight in telling people that he told Maria he would not marry her until she could propose in English, but apparently she was more proficient in English than he was in Spanish. They were married almost 57 years, and had two sons and two daughters. Always a keen competitor, Merrill enjoyed various sports and was a softball pitcher and a high-70s golfer.
In 1949 Merrill transferred to Standard Oil of New Jersey in New York and a year later became chief geologist for Carter Oil in Tulsa. By 1957 he had advanced to Vice President and Director, and in 1960 was named vice president of exploration for Humble Oil & Refining in Houston where he served until his retirement in 1975. Merrill was admired for his integrity, respected for his business judgment and esteemed for his exploration leadership.
Merrill received many honors from different organizations during his lifetime, but felt his greatest honor was his election as president of AAPG in 1974. He was awarded the Association’s highest honor, the Sidney Powers Memorial Medal, in 1986.
He was a Trustee of the AAPG Foundation from 1976 to 1991, serving as Chairman the last two years of that time. He was very generous in his support of AAPG Foundation programs. Out of respect for his long-time friendship with Wallace Pratt, Merrill endowed the Foundation’s Haas-Pratt Distinguished Lecture and made a substantial contribution toward construction of the Foundation’s Wallace Pratt Tower in 1985.
Upon learning of his death, April 21, 2001, a fellow geologist wrote in tribute to Merrill, “A man of his stature does not leave this life unnoticed.”
The Merrill W. Haas Memorial Grant is awarded annually to a qualified graduate student through the American Association of Petroleum Geologists Foundation Grants-in-Aid program, and is endowed through the AAPG Foundation from generous contributions by his numerous friends and colleagues.