The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Emery Castle Oral History Interviews

Three life history interviews conducted by Chris Petersen.

October 14 - 15, 2014


Emery Neal Castle was born in 1923 in Greenwood County, Kansas and grew up on a tenant farm with his parents and three brothers. As a boy, he was an avid reader and enjoyed working with the family's livestock.

Castle's early education took place in a one-room schoolhouse and, later, a rural high school in Kansas. After graduating, Castle enrolled for one semester of college studies at Kansas State University before dropping out to join the military. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corp in 1943 and served with the 8th Air Force as a Technical Sergeant, participating in thirty missions as a B-17 radio operator. He was discharged at war's end and received the Air Medal with five clusters. While stationed in Europe, he corresponded with his former high school English teacher, Merab Weber, and in 1946 the two married. They later became parents to a daughter, Cheryl.

Once discharged, Castle returned Kansas State University to resume his studies. He graduated with a B.S. in Agricultural Economics in 1948 and remained at Kansas State for graduate school. He received his M.S. in Agricultural Economics in 1950 and, two years later, completed his Ph.D. at Iowa State University.

Castle's first professional job was as an agricultural economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. In 1954, after two years at the bank, Castle and his family moved to Corvallis, where he had accepted a faculty position in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oregon State College. His research focused on non-market dimensions of natural resources, including water resources, hay production and animal grazing in eastern Oregon. In 1959 Castle was promoted to full professor, and in 1962 he published a textbook, Farm Business Management: The Decision-Making Process, that eventually went through two more editions and was translated into several languages.

Castle was appointed as OSU's Dean of Faculty in 1965, but stepped down after a year to chair the Department of Agricultural Economics. He also became head of OSU's Water Resources Institutes at this time, and held that position for three more years. In 1970 Castle was appointed to the Commission on University Goals, which was formed by President James Jensen to develop a strategic plan for OSU. The commission, which was chaired by Castle, Warren Hovland and Jim Knudson, studied the university for eighteen months and ultimately issued a report containing sixty-seven recommendations, many of which made an impact on the shape of the university over the years to come.

After a four-year stint as Dean of the Graduate School, Castle left OSU in 1976 to become the vice-president, and later president, of Resources for the Future (RFF), a public policy think tank located in Washington, D.C. Castle led RFF during a period of transition, and as head of the institute he secured the funds necessary to endow RFF and secure its full financial independence. In 2002, on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, RFF honored Castle by dedicating its public rose garden to him.

Castle returned to Oregon State University in 1986 to chair a fledgling University Graduate Faculty of Economics, a position that he held until 1991. During this period, Castle also chaired the National Rural Studies Committee, a Kellogg Foundation-funded program charged with evaluating the service of higher education programs to rural America. Before his retirement in 1993, Castle likewise headed up a committee that examined the future of the Extension Service at OSU and advocated for the further integration of Extension employees within the university's academic departments.

When Castle retired, Iowa State University awarded him an honorary doctorate in recognition of his work in rural studies and public service. He received a second honorary degree from OSU in 2006, one that recognized his work as a teacher, researcher, administrator, and public policy analyst. In retirement, Castle has remained active in the community, particularly through his love of roses and his work with the Corvallis Rose Society.

In 1999 Castle's first wife, Merab, passed away, a victim of Alzheimer's Disease. In his 2010 memoir, Reflections of a Pragmatic Economist: My Intellectual Journey, Castle devoted an appendix to his wife's illness and the years that he spent caring for her. In 2000 Castle married his second wife, Betty, who died in 2015.