Franklin Wofford Denius, highly-decorated World War II veteran, philanthropist, attorney, and Austin businessman, played a significant role in the development of Austin in the 1950s and 1960s. Born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, on January 4, 1925, he was the only child of Frances (Cain) Denius and Samuel F. Denius, a dentist and oil entrepreneur. When he was still an infant, Franklin and his family moved to his mother’s hometown of Athens, Texas, where his father invested in the oil and gas industry. The family lived with his maternal grandparents, Smith M. and Mattie (Wofford) Cain, and by the mid-1930s his parents divorced. His uncles John and Wofford Cain assumed the role of father figures and influenced his education and career. When thirteen years old, Denius enrolled in Schreiner Military Institute in Kerrville, Texas, and completed high school and one semester of college. At the age of seventeen, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in the summer of 1942. Due to his age and education, the army sent him to The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where he completed two semesters of college until he was called to active duty.
Denius completed basic and instruments-and-survey training at Camp Roberts in California, then travelled to England in January 1944 for Ranger training in preparation for Operation Overlord, the codename for the Allied forces’ plan to invade German-occupied Western Europe at Normandy, France. He was assigned as a forward artillery observer to Battery C of the 230th Field Battalion of the Thirtieth Infantry Division (dubbed “Old Hickory”) but landed with the Twenty-ninth Infantry on Omaha Beach as part of the second wave of the D-Day invasion in June 1944. Denius, called “Tex” by his fellow soldiers, saw combat with his assigned company at Saint-Lô, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Mortain, and followed up the carpet bombing for Operation Cobra to witness the liberation of Paris. At Mortain, Denius, members of Company C, along with other companies of the Thirtieth Infantry defended the U.S. Army’s hold of Hill 314, a priority to slow the German counteroffensive. During the battle, however, five German armored divisions completely surrounded the hill and cut off and barraged the U. S. soldiers with heavy fire for six days. Dubbed the “Lost Battalion,” they suffered heavy casualties and depleting stores of food, water, and medical supplies. Since efforts to air drop supplies failed to reach them, Denius coordinated with other observation teams of nearby artillery units to deliver supplies to his men by using hollowed-out artillery shells typically used to disperse propaganda. For his war service, he received four Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, a Presidential Citation, the Belgian and French Croix de Guerre, and Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. He was discharged in 1946.
After the war, Denius enrolled at the University of Texas. In 1949 he graduated with degrees in law and business and married Charmaine Hooper of Athens, Texas, on November 19, 1949. That same year he joined the Austin law firm of Looney, Clark, and Moorhead—a firm noted for having powerful political clients, including President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Denius became a named partner in 1960 and stayed at the practice until he began his own firm in 1976. He worked for Lyndon Johnson on his personal business affairs and over time became a close friend, even attending Johnson’s Inaugural Ball in 1965. Specializing in oil, gas, and utility law, Denius represented many national companies in front of the Texas Railroad Commission and negotiated municipal contracts for gas, transit, phone, and cable television services with the city of Austin. Denius served as a director of the Aztec Oil and Gas Company and the Delhi-Taylor Oil Corporation and president of the Southern Union Gas Company, founded by his uncle Wofford Cain and Clint Murchison. Recognized for his civic and business leadership early in life, he was name “Austin’s outstanding young man of 1959” by the Junior Chamber of Commerce.
For Denius, politics and public service were natural outgrowths of his occupation. In 1954 he led the conservatives to take over the Travis County Young Democrats, which faced a four-way split, to throw support behind Governor Allan Shivers. From 1957 to 1961 he was a member of the Texas Legislature Constitutional Revision Committee. Later, he worked as the treasurer on several of J. J. “Jake” Pickle’s campaigns. In 1970, as Austin Independent School District faced litigation over its desegregation plan and debates over busing, Denius was elected to the district school board, and his law partner Donald S. Thomas represented AISD pro-bono in court. Through his position on the Greater Austin Association’s executive and steering committee and as an attorney for the Austin Urban Renewal Program, Denius played a role in reshaping several areas of the city. He also played a role in bringing a Texas League baseball team, the Austin Senators, to the city in 1955. In 1963 he represented the majority of Texas A&M University’s Board of Regents and argued on their behalf to open university enrollment to women, which was implemented in 1969.
As a devoted alumnus, Frank Denius provided significant professional and philanthropic service to the University of Texas in Austin. In 1961 he and noted attorneys Leon Jaworski and law partner Edward Clark represented the University of Texas Board of Regents in a legal suit to desegregate the institution’s dormitories until they integrated in 1964. From 1964 to 1966 he served as president of the Texas Ex-Students Association, known as Texas Exes, an organization he helped establish. As the chair of the university’s Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Veterans Committee in 1997, he ensured the continued dedication of the stadium’s status as a war memorial to military veterans and helped restart the tradition of honoring veterans at UT football games for Veterans Day. In addition, he commissioned and donated the statue of a World War I soldier, called The Doughboy by Paul Tadlock, to honor all veterans. The statue is located in the Frank Denius Veterans Memorial Plaza at the northwest corner of stadium.
As director and president of the Effie and Wofford Cain Foundation, Denius provided financial support for education and the arts in Texas. The Cain Foundation is a private family nonprofit foundation established by Denius’s aunt and uncle, Effie and Wofford Cain in 1952. He was named the foundation’s director in 1955, executive committee chairman in 1983, and served as president until his death in 2018. Under his leadership, the Cain Foundation provided funds for student scholarships, teaching awards, and grants to Texas-based charities, including Austin-based Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) and the SIMS Foundation, which provides mental health and addiction recovery services for those in the music industry. The Cain Foundation has also provided funding for numerous educational institutions, including St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin and Schreiner University in Kerrville, as well as the Cain Presidential Endowed Chair at Texas A&M University and the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Fine Arts and the J. J. “Jake” Pickle Regents Chair in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. Denius and the foundation also donated funds to build recreational facilities in his hometown of Athens and for three football practice fields, now called the Frank Denius Practice Fields at the University of Texas. In recognition for a half-century of service, financial support, and commitment to higher education, he received the Santa Rita Award from the University of Texas Board of Regents at a ceremony in February 2007. He received the Austin Community Foundation Philanthropy Award in 2013.
Frank Denius, a longtime and active member of Westminster Presbyterian Church, died in Austin on July 29, 2018. He and his wife had two children, Charmaine Denius McGill and Wofford Denius. After his death, the University of Texas held a tribute to him at their annual Veterans Recognition Football Game in November 2018, and the football team dedicated their 2018 season to him with “FD” on their helmets. The university also made plans to construct a hall of fame named in his honor—the Frank Denius Family University of Texas Athletics Hall of Fame.