Donna Mike Dang Elwood

Donna and Mike and Dang Elwood

Of Books, Rocks, & Faraway Places

Mike and Dang Elwood make a visit to Harlowton each summer bringing with them a little bit of Asia and a wider view of the world. Carrying their deep respect for education wherever they go, Mike and Dang picture the broad academic and work experiences of the whole Elwood family.

Their daughter Gwen is working on a Master’s in Socio-Medical Science and International Affairs at Columbia University in New York City after finishing her Bachelor’s at Brown University last year. Son Charlie works for Delphi in Kokomo, Indiana. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute in Terre Haute and then a Master’s in Industrial Management at Purdue.

The third Elwood generation - Warren and Donna being the first - definitely follow in the steps of their parents, Mike and Dang, and their uncles. Mike and Dang are geologists, having met, married and taken their Master’s degrees in Rapid City, SD, in the late 70s.

Mike started at the University of Wyoming in Laramie where he got his Bachelor’s in Geology. Dang took hers at Chiang Mai University in Thailand. The School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City brought them together as they continued their studies in geology.

Mike smiles and tells that he met a young woman - probably blonde - around that time who asked where he was going to school. Elwood responded, “The School of Mines.”

The woman thought she got it, “Oh, you must be a psychology major!”

The brothers Elwood are well known for their academic accomplishment. It is common knowledge around town. “Those Elwoods are so bright.” The details are less well known. Youngest brother Dane has a Bachelor’s in Computer Science (almost a Master’s in Mathematics) from UM and is a computer programmer. Rob lives in Denver where he is a computer programmer and allergy specialist for McKesson. He has an Associates Degree from Dawson Community College.

Jim, who lives in Japan and teaches English, has a Master’s in Linguistics from UM and is working on his Ph.D.. John has a pharmacy degree from the University of Wyoming and works in the field in Elko, Nevada.

Mike’s SD Tech degree was in Structural and Economic Geology. He had the distinction of having his thesis, Geology of the Black Buttes, Crook County, Wyoming, published by the Wyoming Geological Association. The focus of Dang’s thesis was Geological Education in the Museum.

For the time being, Dang Elwood is the most educated of all the Elwoods having completed her second Master’s degree at the Institute of Aerospace Survey in Delft, Holland, in the early 90s. (Dang is her nickname. The word means Red. Her birth name is Sompis Chuntamee. Sisters are nicknamed UU and Aung.)

Dang grew up in Korat in northeastern Thailand, a city of around 500,000. Korat is also a nickname - for Nakorn Rashasima. (It’s a good thing they use nicknames.) After getting her first degree and working in the geological museum for the Department of Mineral Resources in Bangkok, she received a scholarship which allowed her to come to the states and study at the South Dakota School of Mines. After graduation, she was obligated to work for the government in return for her education. So, the Elwoods moved to Thailand.

Mike graduated from SD Tech in 1978, Charlie was born in 1979, and Dang got her degree in 1980. Fortunately when it was time for Dang to go back to work at the DMR Museum, “Unocal was looking to hire numbers of people in the petroleum industry to work in Thailand.” Mike got a job with them, some training in Los Angeles, and the family traveled to Bangkok.

They stayed there from 1980 to 1985. Mike was transferred to Borneo, Indonesia early in the year. Gwen was born in February and Dang and the baby joined Mike and Charlie in May on the edge of the jungle at Balikpapan which is on the east coast of Borneo, now called Kalimantan.

Mike worked on offshore and onshore exploration there from 1985 to 1989. Borneo is located near the equator and Balikpapan was only accessible by boat and plane. One of the most primitive areas in the world.

By 1989, Dang says, “I didn’t want to lose my contact with geology. I wanted to freshen up my brain.” So, she applied and was accepted to study for her second master’s degree at Delft, Holland. Her thesis was a Geochemical Survey of Gold in Central Spain and Geochemical Exploration for Rare Earth Minerals in Chang Mai, Thailand.

While she studied in Delft, Mike continued to work for Unocal in the Hague. “There was a posting for a vacancy. This was more computer-based geology. We were involved in North Sea drilling. Some horizontal drilling of oil (and gas.) Unocal was the first to find oil in the southern region of the North Sea. We also were the first to put in an undersea pipeline in the area.”

After Dang completed her second advanced degree, Mike was posted to Lafayette, Louisiana, from 1993 to 1998. “We were working along the coastal area on onshore, mostly vertical drilling. We were mainly looking for gas.”

Then in 1998, Mike was transferred back to the jungle in Balikpapan until 2002. Charlie was in college by then. Dang and Gwen took up residence back in Thailand. Dang helped set up a new museum during this time called the Gems and Jewelry Museum for The Institute of Gems and Jewelry of Thailand.

By 2002, Mike was sent back to Bangkok becoming a senior team leader searching for offshore oil and gas. Dang subsequently went to work as an executive advisor for a new consulting company, Atop Technology Co., which had been set up by a friend. The purpose of the company was to “assist the government in helping contractors to do geochemical searches for gold. We planned for field work and did report writing.”

In Thailand, all gold, oil and gas belong to government. They are government controlled and taxed. An oil company like Chevron (Unocal was purchased by Chevron in 2006), which extracts natural resources in Thailand, pays both taxes and royalties to the government.

Business and politics are more interlaced in Thailand which has a constitutional monarchy. “King Bhumibol is a cohesive, positive force in the country. The monarchy goes back forever,” Mike tells.

How about an American learning to live in Thailand? Mike Elwood says he remembers only two major adjustments when he moved to Thailand. “Security was really tight in 1980 because of an insurgency in the south on the Malaysian border. There was a huge, uncomfortable military presence for some years.”

He adds, “I was pretty nervous about meeting Dang’s father.” He apparently passed inspection.

Life in Bangkok, a city of 5,000,000 is filled with work and family obligations. For fun, the Elwoods visit some of the hundreds of markets, frequent restaurants and noodle shops, go swimming and visit the beach (two hours away) and make day trips. “Bangkok is very cosmopolitan. We are always looking for a new noodle shop. We have lunch together almost every day.”

Now, the tables are about to turn as the Elwoods look at retirement and moving back to America. That is planned after Gwen finishes her studies at Columbia in two years or so. The adjustment this time will be Dang’s, “I just have to prepare myself. There will be social differences. But, Mike’s family will be helpful.”

The Elwoods may keep their hands in geology but not fulltime. A major job will be to build a house on property they own east of Shawmut.

Dang adds a final remark relevant to her original trip to the US to extend her education. “I came to America for education. For a higher level. In this country, you get to the core of education. Here everybody gets an opportunity to gain more knowledge.”