NDSU agribusiness chairman diesWhen Cole Gustafson first arrived at North Dakota State University in 1986, his fellow faculty members had a research project ready to go — and put him to work before he had a chance to blink.
By: By Marino Eccher, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — When Cole Gustafson first arrived at North Dakota State University in 1986, his fellow faculty members had a research project ready to go — and put him to work before he had a chance to blink.
“We teased him and continued to tease him over the next 26 years that we never even gave him the chance to unpack his boxes,” said David Saxowksy, an associate agricultural business and law professor and one of Gustafson’s longtime colleagues. “He hit the ground running, and he never slowed down.”
Gustafson, the chairman of NDSU’s agribusiness and applied economics department, died Saturday in a tractor accident on his father’s farm near Center City, Minn. He was planting corn and apparently got out of the tractor to check the planter when the tractor partially ran him over.
Gustafson, who was 56, was pronounced dead at the scene.
On Monday, his friends and colleagues remembered him as a hardworking innovator, a good-natured team player and a dedicated family man.
In two and a half decades at NDSU, Gustafson wore a number of different hats. He had a strong interest in alternative fuel sources and most recently pursued a number of collaborations in the burgeoning energy beet industry. He was a pioneer in distance learning and helped revolutionize the way the school delivered instruction remotely.
For a time, he was the associate director of the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Center. He headed the agribusiness department twice — first in the 1990s and again starting last year.
Ken Grafton, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Natural Resources, said chairing that department — a sometimes-thankless job — was indicative of Gustafson’s willingness to help where he was needed,
“It’s a task that people don’t necessarily aspire to,” Grafton said. “It’s a selfless task.”
He said Gustafson was “very much a mentor” to students and younger faculty members.
Robert Herren, an economics professor in the department, said Gustafson was energetic, always juggling multiple projects and proposals. But he was also calm and even-handed.
“One of the things about Cole was that Cole was always very calm and collected,” Herren said. “One of my colleagues always said that Cole had the perfect poker face.”
He said he and many of his colleagues are still in shock over the death.
“It just hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” he said. “I still kind of expect to see him walk through the door and be at the next meeting and everything.”
One of Saxowsky’s most poignant memories of Gustafson came within the past few months. Gustafson, who became a grandparent in the past year, was talking about spending time with his grandchild.
“The best way I can describe it is radiance that I’d never seen for him before,” Saxowsky said. “It was just a moment that I will hold dear because it showed Cole’s love for his family. I’m so glad that I had those few moments with him.”
Marino Eccher is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-
Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.