NDSU mourns death of department chairman
Published: Thursday, May 3, 2012
Updated: Thursday, May 3, 2012 16:05
A stunned agribusiness and applied economics department tragically lost one of their faculty pillars Saturday, as well as a great friend. A farm-related accident near Center City, Minn. claimed the life of Cole Gustafson who touched the lives of many people both on and off campus since arriving here in 1986.
“Dr. Gustafson’s impact on the campus ranged from the students, to outreach education and into the industry,” said David Saxowsky, A&AE associate professor. “His thinking and contributions were certainly recognized by his colleagues at other universities and research institutions around the nation.”
“Cole was genuinely interested in students and was one of the most well-liked teachers in the department,” said Extension Livestock Marketing Economist Tim Petry. “One of his top priorities was to make sure he was available to students in case they had questions.”
Petry added that Gustafson helped many students find successful career opportunities and followed them as they advanced in their career field. Many graduates of the department considered Gustafson a friend.
Gustafson filled a number of roles during his 25-plus years at NDSU, which included, but were not limited to professor, researcher and administrator. He was currently serving his second term as department head, where he was so well liked that fellow staff asked him to do it again. In between, he filled the role as associate director of the Agricultural Experiment Station.
“In the College of Agriculture, we have some people who are excellent teachers, some are excellent researchers, some are excellent extension specialists, and some are excellent administrators,” said Petry. “However, it is very rare to find a person who is excellent at all four of those. But, Cole did excel in each of those areas.”
Gustafson was hired by NDSU after earning his doctorate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois and was promptly thrust into a research
capacity. Over the years, much of his research focused on the development of financial risk management strategies for farms, biofuel/bioproduct firms and the wind industry.
“When Dr. Gustafson arrived (in 1986) we literally met within hours and said, ‘We’ve got this research project, it has a short timeline, we need to get working on it and we need you to be neck deep into this project immediately,’” said Saxowsky. “We didn’t even give him a prayer of a chance to say no to the project, and he never slowed down after that.”
One of his latest projects was to assemble a team of NDSU and industry professionals to research the feasibility of growing energy sugar beets to produce ethanol. Petry says that when the department received authorization for a new extension bioenergy position, Gustafson enthusiastically accepted that challenge because it was a new and emerging area that no one had been involved in before.
“We do see other nations in the world that are using sugar for ethanol production, and we haven’t really started doing that yet in the United States,” said Saxowsky. “He was working very close with a group of business people who were thinking about how to bring those types of opportunities to reality throughout the country.”
Saxowsky went on to say that Gustafson was working with several other groups on innovative projects that are just taking roots now. When they are still in the early thinking stages, the business people who are working on them look to people like Gustafson to help them assemble necessary data, analyze it and then apply it to the thought process.
“We met today to talk about how to keep these projects rolling and also what are the next projects that Dr. Gustafson would have envisioned,” said Saxowsky. “His work will continue to be the foundation for ongoing efforts.”
Pelfry mentioned that outside of his research and academic endeavors, Gustafson was known as person who exhibited a “can do” and resourceful spirit. He was quite crafty in the creation of wooden furniture and in automobile restoration. On top of fixing up wrecked cars, he enjoyed racing the car that he constructed himself, and he once built a motorcycle from scratch.
“He was not only a skilled member of the academic community, but he was an exciting and adventure-filled individual,” said Saxowsky. “If there was something adventurous to try I would guess that Dr. Gustafson tried it at some point.”
Due to his rare set of unique talents and selfless qualities, Gustafson’s fellow faculty expressed that his untimely death has left a tremendous void in the department. Others knew him as probably the most efficient person at getting work finished that they have ever been around.
“Two words that come to mind to describe Cole would be efficient and multi-talented,” said Petry. “These qualities made him a great chair. He was also a great colleague and friend.”
When asked how he would describe Gustafson in a sentence he initially didn’t think that was possible, but eventually stated, “He was a colleague in the true sense of the word and a companion in our professional activities. When it hits me that he’s really gone, it’s going to hit me like a sledgehammer.”
Husband, father, friend and colleague Dr. Cole Gustafson was laid to rest on Thursday at his hometown of Center City, not far from the family farm where his legacy of devoted service to agriculture began.