The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Russ Youmans Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

May 7, 2015


Russell Clark Youmans was born in 1936 in east central Illinois and spent much of his early childhood in Cerro Gordo, Illinois. In 1949 the Youmans moved permanently to their Illinois family farm, where Russ remained until the completion of his high school years in 1954.

That fall, Youmans enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied general agriculture. A member of Naval ROTC during all four of his undergraduate years, Youmans was also a Farm House fraternity pledge and the Illinois representative at a national 4-H convention held in Kentucky. Youmans graduated with a bachelor's of science degree in June 1958. He received a commission as a naval ensign the day before graduation and, the day afterward, he married his wife, Mary. Shortly thereafter, the newlyweds moved to San Diego so that Youmans could report for the Navy.

From 1958 to July 1960, Youmans served as a line officer aboard the USS Calvert. After completing his time in the Navy, the Youmans moved back to the Midwest, where Russ began work on a graduate degree in agricultural economics at Purdue University. He completed his master's studies in 1962, writing a thesis titled "Resource Adjustments for Retirement Among Central Indiana Farmers."

His master's degree in hand, Youmans elected to continue on at Purdue as a doctoral candidate, enticed by the university's connection with a program sponsored by the United States Agency of International Development. The program was based in Brazil and focused on assisting Brazilian universities with adding graduate agricultural work to their curricula. After completing his preliminary work, Youmans moved to Brazil in fall 1963 with his wife and daughter. While in Brazil, Youmans taught graduate courses, and his wife gave birth to their second child. Two years later, the family returned stateside; Youmans completed his Ph.D. in production economics the following year.

In 1966 Youmans and his family moved to Corvallis, where Russ had been hired to a hybrid research and Extension position by Oregon State University's Agricultural Economics department. This new job involved scholarly work, resident instruction, and coordination with the OSU Extension Service, and Youmans' initial efforts involved collaboration with the Pacific Northwest River Basins Commission, a federal body involved with several agencies. In working with this commission, Youmans analyzed markets for water - municipal, industrial, waste, irrigation, transportation and hydro power - and tried to evaluate ways in which water might be most productively allocated across the Northwest.

In 1972 the Rural Development Act was passed by Congress and with it came the establishment of four rural development centers, scattered across the country. One of these, the Western Rural Development Center (WRDC), was located at OSU, in Ballard Extension Hall. The WRDC worked to link land grant universities with local policymakers in addressing issues of rural development, and was intended to stimulate research and education in the social sciences on issues face by rural communities. The WRDC's normal mode of operation was to create commissions or task forces charged with creating comprehensive approaches to specific rural problems. In this, one of the center's most important tasks was to stimulate the exchange of ideas. The WRDC also published a wide array of educational materials intended to assist rural communities in making knowledgeable decisions concerning the complex issues that they faced as they confronted a rapidly changing world.

Youmans became director of the WRDC in 1977. In this capacity, Youmans worked with a variety of constituents from across the region, ranging from researchers to public officials to Extension staff. He likewise helped to organize several commissions and conferences on rural issues, and administered the creation of new and updated literature to assist with public policy decisions in multiple western states. Youmans also oversaw the creation of the Family Community Leadership program, which worked to provide leadership skills for leaders and civic organizers in rural communities.

Russ Youmans retired from OSU in 1999. That same year, the WRDC moved its offices from OSU to Utah State University, where it remains today.