Paul Rusten had a good run, as he would say, “helping other people say what they need to say.”
The entrepreneurial printer, filmmaker, college instructor and builder of elaborate decks and gazebos died Friday in his sleep at a retirement home in Minnetonka where he had lived since 2007. He was 91.
Family members remember Rusten as an artistic, energetic bon vivant with an unquenchable “zest for life.”
“Never boring,” Jill Rusten, a niece in Palatine, Ill., said of her favorite uncle. “He would be controversial. He wanted to get a rise out of people.”
Paul Rusten was born in Muskegon, Mich., and grew up in Elroy, Wis. His father, the Rev. Andrew Rusten, was a Norwegian immigrant and church pastor. Paul dabbled in photography as a young man and did odd jobs. He got his start in business at an early age when he borrowed the church printer and made promotional cards around Christmastime and bottle tops for a milk business run by a local woman.
After high school, Rusten enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison but dropped out in his sophomore year to join the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.
Scott Rusten, the second of his three sons, said his dad bypassed boot camp and was sent directly to North Africa and later to Italy. He was a noncombat photographer and ran a photo lab. Among his mementos are more than a thousand negatives from the period, including images of Winston Churchill, top military brass and touring celebrities like baseball Hall of Famer Leo “the Lip” Durocher.
After the war, Rusten returned to Elroy and married Mary Jane Forbes. He founded ELC Films, which made educational films for the Evangelical Lutheran Church. After moving to St. Louis Park, he started Continental Films for Midwest Communications Inc., and later launched his own film company, which made educational programs for Carleton and St. Olaf colleges. He also made commercial films for clients like Northrup-King Seed Co. (now Syngenta), Toro Co. and Sons of Norway.
Scott Rusten said his father’s films won plaudits by the New York Times Honor Roll, the American Psychiatric Association and others.
Paul Rusten taught film classes for two decades at Augsburg and Macalester colleges. But he had more to offer.
“He was always looking for a new challenge,” Scott said. “We kind of joked about his second retirement. He built a cedar deck for a friend, and then that took off and he started designing and building gazebos and cedar decks, and he wrote articles about how to build them in Handyman magazine.”
Jill Rusten said her uncle’s artistic streak ran deep, and he often would figure out a way to “deck the entire yard.” He built a large gazebo and donated it in his wife’s honor to their hometown of Elroy. He kept building into his 80s.
Rusten worked even after he moved to the 274-unit seniors complex called RidgePointe of Minnetonka. He prepared a biographical tribute of the community’s war veterans and their spouses, which culminated in a public exhibit in December 2008. He told the Star Tribune at the time that although many vets didn’t think they had much to say, “every one of them is interesting to read.”
Rusten’s wife died about 40 years ago. He is survived by his sons, Jeff, of Ithaca, N.Y., Scott, of Plymouth, and Brendt, of Buffalo, Minn.
A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Plymouth Congregational Church, 1900 Nicollet Av., Minneapolis. The burial will take place Saturday in Elroy.