Montana State University

Spring 2010

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Mountains and Minds

Justine Kuschel's good idea takes root April 27, 2010 by Carol Schmidt • Published 04/27/10

Good ideas often come from unlikely places.

Photo by Kelly GorhamPhoto by Kelly Gorham

Good ideas often come from unlikely places. A recent game-changing idea that will for years influence Montana State University's Towne Harvest Garden sprouted two years ago in the television room of Justine Kuschel's home in Missoula's South Hills.

As Kuschel tells it, the idea came to her when she was watching the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Like millions of people, Kuschel, 91, was astounded by the show. But what impressed her most was not the spectacle, but the sheer number of people involved in the presentation.

"I thought 'Someone is going to have to find a way to feed all of those people. How is my grandchildren's generation going to find food for them?'" Kuschel recalls. She had been reading about contemporary sustainable farming. "I began thinking then: What can I do to help?"

What Kuschel did was contact the MSU Foundation with her idea. She has given the foundation a piece of real estate that she owns on Flathead Lake. The property will be sold, the proceeds funding a trust that will provide income to her but also will fund scholarships for students studying sustainable food and bioenergy systems and program support. The area is a new multi-disciplinary degree that is a partnership of the MSU College of Agriculture and the MSU College of Education, Health and Human Development. One of its most visible projects is the Towne Harvest Garden, a 3-acre vegetable plot located just west of campus. There, sustainable food production is taught and produce is raised, then sold in the community and donated to the local food bank. Kuschel's endowment is named in honor of her mother, Charlotte Delle Rose Hughes.

"I have always had a tremendous respect for Montana State University where a serious and dedicated education is provided," said Kuschel, who studied art and met her late husband, Bill, at what was then Montana State College. "Giving this endowment gives my life meaning."

Justine Gail Palmer Hughes Kuschel's life began in 1919. Her mother later died in childbirth. Kuschel was adopted by her mother's sister, Charlotte, and her husband, Herbert Hughes, an electrical engineer who helped reopen the Missoula sugar factory.

Justine is strong in her convictions, has remarkable life experience, is very smart philosophically and technically, and sees a bright future through education.
-Jeff Jacobsen, Dean of MSU College of Agriculture
Kuschel has strong memories of her childhood, living on a 10-acre farm in the Orchard Homes area west of Missoula. Her father raised celery in the family garden, often wrapping the growing plant in newspaper to produce the white stalks then favored, and there were many fruit trees in their 1-acre orchard.

"During the Depression, people would come to our door asking for food," Kuschel recalls. Her mother would send them to the orchard to pick fruit to eat free of charge.

Kuschel said her mother, who had been a teacher and principal in Iowa and Colorado, fostered a life-long love for books in her daughter and an independent spirit.

Photo by Kelly GorhamPhoto by Kelly Gorham

Kuschel ventured across the divide to study art at Montana State College in 1939. She worked in the student union cafeteria (SUB director Mildred Leigh was her supervisor), where she met Paul William "Bill" Kuschel, Jr., who was from a family that farmed in Alberta, Canada, and Great Falls. The two married in 1941 and he graduated from MSC in 1943. They moved to Cambridge, Mass., when Bill was accepted to the Harvard School of Business Administration and Justine worked in the Harvard Bookstore. While Bill served as a captain in the U.S. Forces in Europe during World War II, Justine returned to Missoula and graduated from the University of Montana with a bachelor's degree in fine arts in 1946.

The couple lived in Canada and was involved in the family business until they and their two young children returned to Missoula in 1960 and bought a music store. Kuschel's home evidences their life during those years, with paintings, a grand piano and remembrances from world travel.

Bill died in 2006, although the portrait that Justine painted of him still presides on the living room wall. Books, conversation and ideas remain the currency of Justine Kuschel's still-active life. When visitors come, she peppers the lively conversation with questions, observations and witticisms, drawing upon facts accumulated from the half-dozen books that she has read recently.

The proud mother of two, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of seven realizes she has had a good life, but said she has been thinking for some time about how to give something back to the world that has been so generous to her. The sustainable farming gift to MSU felt right, she said.

"Academics are terribly important," she said. "I believe it is important to understand what a good agriculturally trained student would be capable of engineering."

Jeff Jacobsen, dean of the MSU College of Agriculture, said that Kuschel's gift validates the new sustainable foods major and the university's work in the area.

"It is magical when a donor such as Justine has strong convictions about the intersection of agriculture, higher education and the future that align with our programs," Jacobsen said. "Justine is strong in her convictions, has remarkable life experiences, is very smart philosophically and technically, and sees a bright future through education."

Kuschel recently traveled to Bozeman to visit the farm that will benefit from her gift and met students working on the farm.

"When I saw it I was so happy that I had made the gift," Kuschel said. "I care about the earth and its future. I was so happy that I could be a part of this."