Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



NDSU department chairman Gustafson dies in farm accident

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.

Cole Gustafson
Cole Gustafson, North Dakota State University chairman of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Applied Economics, a biofuels economist, died April 28 in a farm accident on his family farm, north of Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is pictured here in February 2011, at Barry Hall. Mikkel Pates / Forum Communications

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 Saxowsky, 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."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502

Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author's name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send a letter to the editor.

What To Read Next
Get Local