'Pioneer' Rustads not afraid of hard work

Jim and Noreen (Dezell) Rustad are long time community minded residents of the City of Prince George; they both came from local well known and what I call "pioneer families". There just isn't enough space in this column to do them justice so here is their story in a nutshell.

Jim Rustad was born the only child of Carrie and Carl Rustad in Nipawin, Sask., in 1937 and spent his childhood in White Fox, Sask. His father and Mel Rustad ran a saw mill, a planer mill and a general store in White Fox during the Depression. The story is that they exchanged lumber for goods at the store from cash strapped farmers; one thing just led to another and a successful lumber business began to emerge.

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In 1944 the CCF government (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) took over all timber rights and they became Crown contractors. With that they moved the business to California for three years and then to Prince George in 1949. Carl and Mel Rustad along with partner Jim Adams formed the successful business of Rustad Bros. & Co Ltd. in 1947.

Young Jim Rustad worked part time for the company while going to school and got involved full time in the many aspects of the business in 1956 right after his graduation from high school; he sold the business to Northwood in 1991.

Noreen (Dezell) Rustad was born in Kamloops in 1940 during the family move from Wells to Quesnel. Her parents, Garvin and Bea Dezell, were in the construction business along with her grandfather James Nelson. The business was named J N Dezell & Son.

Her parents along with Noreen and her older brother Cliff arrived in Prince George in 1946 when the town had a population of about 5,000 people. Noreen, as a child, was part of the business way back then in her own way. It was the era just after the war and she could be found straightening used nails for her father to reuse in his construction business.

Noreen said, "As a pre-teen if I wanted some spending money I would go down to the Citizen newspaper, get a bundle of newspapers and hawk them on the street corner. I always got rid of my papers and I probably made enough money for a movie or some junk food. We could only do this once a week because at that time The Citizen was only a weekly paper."

The two families like all other pioneer families were not afraid of hard work or of working long hours to establish their home and the family business. This was back in the day of party line telephone service, wooden sidewalks, walking to do the shopping, huge gardens, cold rooms in the basement, ice boxes, frozen food storage locker rentals, sawdust burners and furnaces and weekly baths after heating huge pots of water to fill a small tub and last but not least the attitude of thankfulness for all of it.

Noreen Dezell married her high school sweetheart - the boy next door - Jim Rustad in 1959. Both families lived on McBride Crescent and after Jim and Noreen married they lived in a house on the same street. When the babies started to arrive there was no shortage of baby sitters for the young couple. They had three children; Tammy (Fernando) who lives on Salt Spring Island, Ross (Shauna) Rustad who live here in Prince George and Kathleen (Bruce) who live in Ottawa. They have four grandchildren.

Generally I am told by grandparents that the grandchildren are perfect in every way. I asked Jim if his grandchildren were perfect in every way and he said with a twinkle in his eye, "No, they are even a bit better than that."

Jim and Noreen recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary.

Noreen raised the children and became a professional volunteer. She said, "when people asked me what I did I would say I was a stay-at-home mom who never stayed home. I was always volunteering for something that our children were involved in, from Brownies to school field trips, to making costumes for drama productions, or canvassing for some good cause,. You name it, I did it."

Noreen has always been a strong and committed community member both quietly behind the scenes and also by volunteering her time with Meals on Wheels and Studio 2880 to name a few of her projects.

Noreen was one of the founding members of the Prince George Community Foundation. She also served on the University of Northern BC's Board of Governors for five years with two of those years as vice president.

There was never a boring moment for Noreen; she was serving on the Festival of the Arts committee when Prince Charles and Lady Diana the Princess of Wales came to Prince George in 1986 to open a particular Festival of the Arts event.

She took weaving and spinning classes at the College of New Caledonia in the late 60s and continued on until she passed all the testing to earn the accreditation of a Master Weaver. By 1986 Noreen was one of approximately 15 accredited Master Weavers in all of Canada. She voluntarily served on committees for the Prince George Weavers' and Spinners' Guild and the Guild of Canadian Weavers. Many of her unique one of a kind and hand made articles are quite often donated to local non profit groups to assist in their fundraisers.

For her many volunteer efforts, Noreen has been awarded life membership in the Prince George Weavers and Spinners Guild, in 1992 she received the City of Prince George Award of Merit for Recreation, the Rotary Citizen of the Year award, and the Governor General's 125 Commemorative Medal. She became an Honorary Alumni at UNBC in 2001 and received the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal as well as the Woman of the Year Award - Impact and Influence in 2002.

Jim, an experienced helicopter pilot, worked and grew the family planer mill business and explains, "In the early 50s before the pulp mills were built in Prince George there were over 500 small saw mills working in the bush. It just took a few men and a portable mill and they were ready for business. They hauled the rough sawn wood to town by truck to be milled and dried at the Rustad Planer Mill and then we sold and shipped it, mostly by rail, to the U.S.

"The pulp mills arrived and the town changed and expanded tremendously. We grew from a frontier town to the largest community in the central interior of BC. I remember the first time a pulp mill started up in our town. Everyone was out looking under their porch to see what had rotted over the winter because the smell was so bad. For better or for worse with the arrival of the pulp mill's life was forever changed in Prince George."

Over the years, Jim was the chairman of the Northern Interior Lumber Association and the Council of Forest Industries. He served on or was involved in almost every association in the north that pertained to the sawmill industry. He said, "these were all strong associations with differing opinions but we mainly all saw eye to eye on the major issues. We showed our united strength as we all fought the 19 per cent U.S. imposed tariff on the Canadian softwood lumber imports.'

Jim reflected back and said, "It wasn't easy to get where we are today. It was always an ongoing process; my uncle and my dad passed away and at first it seemed like I didn't accomplish much but I kept at it. I stayed with it and after 40 years of hard work I am now retired and I am enjoying every day of it."

Jim and Noreen have been retired for many years and the list of their achievements and adventures is extensive and I hope they write a book about all of it.

For example: Jim and Noreen are the only people I know who took a flight on the Concorde, the world's fastest commercial jet. They flew from New York City to Paris in less than three-and-a half hours on the supersonic Concorde reaching speeds of 1,350 miles per hour, which is more than twice the speed of sound.

That was before 2003 when the entire Concorde fleet was grounded due to an incident that was not related to the Concorde's engine construction or speed. For more information on that event just "Google it."

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