Obituary: Jerry Partain

Jerry PartainProfessor Emeritus Jerry Partain, who helped establish Humboldt State’s Forestry bachelor’s degree and turn the program into a longstanding success, died on July 4, 2016 at the age of 91.

Partain was hired in 1953, when coffee cost students 7¢ a cup, to teach with Ed Pierson, who had recently begun a two-year forestry technical program. Together, the two worked to turn forestry into a four-year program, and the first batch of students, – 15 in all – graduated with bachelor’s degrees in 1959-60.

In Partain’s published recounting of the history of the program, Forestry at Humboldt State, he laid out the trials and tribulations of HSU’s forestry program, from acquiring the first truck to haul students out to timber sites to an arson fire that destroyed the forestry building in the late 1970s.

But the Forestry department grew into a well-regarded and well-attended program, weathering upheavals in the timber industry along the way. Midway through his tenure, Partain wrote, “It was time to turn to the task of converting from an old-growth economy to one dependent upon the scientific management of young timber.”

Partain was known for being strong-willed and he willingly shared his opinions on controversial moments big and small, from the introduction of on-campus parking fees to the establishment of Redwood National Park.

During his tenure at HSU – he left the university in 1983 to take a job as director of the California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection (now known as Cal Fire) –  the Forestry department became accredited by the national Society of American Foresters. “This accreditation and the success of our graduates helped put Humboldt State College on the world map and helped greatly to establish the present Humboldt State University,” Partain wrote.

Professor Emeritus Kenneth Fulgham, who took Forest Economics from Partain and would go on to chair the Department of Forestry & Wildland Resources from 2005 to 2014, says Partain was a pragmatic economist who cared deeply about maintaining the forestry program. As a testament to his caring, Partain established an endowment that funds the Jerry Partain Forestry Scholarship, which supports a forestry student annually, including a $2,000 award to a student this year.

Forestry and the other natural resource, science and mathematics programs had a lasting effect on the overall success of Humboldt State, Fulgham said.

“These important programs have national, international reputations. Humboldt’s growth was built on natural resources and the science and mathematics to support it.”


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