Local Obituaries

Vern Jones, Sacramento drilling exploration leader and major philanthropist, dies at 93

Vern Jones, longtime Sacramento businessman and major charity donor, died on Sunday, August 26th at his home in Fair Oaks. He was 93.
Vern Jones, longtime Sacramento businessman and major charity donor, died on Sunday, August 26th at his home in Fair Oaks. He was 93. Derek Jones

Vern Jones, a titan of geologic engineering and a major charity donor in the capital region, died Sunday at his home in Fair Oaks.

Jones suffered a stroke Aug. 21, according to his son, Derek. He was 93.

Jones was known in the drilling industry as a trailblazer in mud logging, the science of recording and analyzing rock cuttings in drilling mud during the exploration process. He is remembered by friends and family for his generosity, donating liberally to organizations across California. And he had a particular zeal for the outdoors, never missing an opportunity for hiking excursions be it the Sierras, Switzerland or South America.

“He was a very hardworking man,” said Joyce Raley Teel. “I think he was driven in many respects.”

Vernon Jones was born on May 1, 1925, in Minneapolis and grew up in the Midwest, where he honed his skills in science and wrestler. After graduating from high school, where he was undefeated in close to 50 matches, he wrestled while serving as a naval aviator during World War II.

In 1945, Jones enrolled in Stanford University on the G.I. bill – studying petroleum geology and competing on the school’s wrestling team. In the four years he wrestled as a Cardinal, he was undefeated, winning the Pacific Coast Conference Championship three times. In 1948, The Stanford Daily newspaper described Jones as “Stanford’s Olympic Hope,” and was the first wrestler inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame. He was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015 for his accomplishments on and off the mat.

“I think his early wrestling career proved his toughness,” said Derek Jones, president of Energy Operations Management Inc., and the head of the California Natural Gas Producers Association. “And he really carried that on into business.”

A few years after his graduation, Jones and a classmate from Stanford founded the Exploration Logging Co., a geologic logging services firm that functioned as a consultant to well owners and producers. The work is common in the oil and gas drilling industry – which contracts mud loggers to plot rock cuttings and analyze hydrocarbons – but is also relied upon in mineral exploration. The mud loggers’ work, performed on the drilling rig, provides valuable geologic insights and can warn of dangerous conditions. The business is dirty, noisy and deeply scientific work better suited for Houston but nearly unheard of in Sacramento at the time.

“I don’t think a lot of people knew what that meant,” said Raley Teel. “I thought it was a logging business.”

But Jones rooted Exploration Logging in Sacramento because he loved the region and the community, his son said. The company, known as EXLOG, grew to become the largest of its kind, employing at its height more than 800 geologists in over 26 countries, including the United Kingdom, Singapore and Peru. Exploration Logging acquired Peters Mud Logging in 1968 and was in turn acquired in 1972 by Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oil field services companies. Jones stayed on as CEO of the company’s Surface Logging division until his retirement in 1980.

But retirement didn’t pin Jones down for long – he, along with his family, entered into the winery business with the ownership of Valfleur Winery, a winery in the Alexander Valley region of Sonoma County.

And Jones founded more geologic analysis firms – including International Logging in 1990, which was sold to private equity in 2006, and Vern Jones Oil and Gas Corp., which is now run by his son.

Jones and his wife, Gloria, were heavily involved in local philanthropic efforts. The couple was a benefactor to the Crocker Art Museum for more than 50 years, as well as donors to the Children’s Receiving Home and many other youth and arts programs. He also created the Vern Jones Stanford Wrestling Program Endowment and was a member of Stanford’s Hoover Foundation.

In his downtime, and well into his 80s, he remained active, often going on hiking trips with his wife and friends.

“We used to hire horses to take us into Yosemite,” said Raley Teel. “He was an outdoor man.”

Jones is survived by his wife, Gloria, and two children, Derek and Sandra.