Russell L. Rustici was a Lake County cattle rancher and philanthropist with a deep interest in cattle ranching and preservation of rangeland ecosystems. Mr. Rustici established gifts which perpetually fund three endowed rangeland faculty positions, a rangeland and cattle research and outreach support program, and a scholarship program to assist undergraduates interested in rangeland science and management.
“Russell believed in conservation of ranching and rangeland – which he saw as one in the same,” says Ken Tate, one of the original three Rustici Endowed Rangeland Chair holders. “And he saw the value in investment. Throughout the years, Russ provided seed money and other support to our team of researchers from different disciplines, different colleges and different campuses, investing in the science necessary to protect rangeland for future generations.”
Mr. Rustici wasn’t born into cattle ranching. He was a native of San Francisco, the son of a produce seller. After serving in the Army Infantry Corps in World War II (he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge), Rustici graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Class of ’48. He went to work for his father’s Sunset Produce Company, later becoming a partner. He retired from Sunset Produce in the 1960s and moved to Lake County to pursue his lifelong dream – to live a quintessential western life as a cattle rancher. Russ passed in October of 2008 at the age of 84, after two decades of living his dream.
He embraced it whole-heartedly, taping into resources available to a new rancher, most of all the UC continuum that delivers basic research to the people it serves. He understood that the research continuum - from faculty to UC Cooperative Extension (CE) specialists to CE farm advisors to (in his case) ranchers – depended on input from ranchers like himself, and he had no qualms about providing feedback.
“I learned that the first time I met Russ in October 1995,” Tate says. “I was 28 years old, recently hired by the department, asked to give a two-hour presentation to a group of ranchers in Ukiah. My talk was pretty text book.”
Mr. Rustici approached him afterwards and in his polite, if gruff, manner told Tate all the things he could improve next time. “He told me what information ranchers were really looking for us to provide,” Tate remembers.
Over the years, Mr. Rustici was always in the audience at rancher field days and California Cattlemen Association events, asking questions, taking notes. Mr. Rustici opened his ranch to researchers to test water quality and other sustainability issues. He conducted tests of his own, as well, Tate says. “He was very interested not just in what was happening on his ranch but also in how runoff from his land affected the land around him,” Tate says. “He cared about sustainability and ensuring rangelands would stay healthy for future generations.”
Scientifically, Mr. Rustici was a taskmaster.
“He didn’t want your opinion,” Tate says. “He wanted to make decisions based upon data, not opinion.”
Mr. Rustici also established a number of scholarships for students, including one administered by the California Farm Bureau Federation Scholarship which funds education for students who intend to ranch or work on rangelands.
“Russ did all he could during his life and now after his death to support the next generation of ranchers and range managers,” Tate says.
Collectively, the gifts Mr. Rustici established will benefit California’s rangelands, ranchers, and the public who benefit from the agricultural goods and ecosystem services derived from this working landscape.