For nearly 30 years, Dean Rebuffoni was the preeminent environmental journalist in Minnesota.
From the dumping of taconite tailings into Lake Superior by Reserve Mining to the emergence of large, confined animal feeding operations, Rebuffoni covered the major battles and controversies over environmental issues for the Minneapolis Tribune and later for the Star Tribune.
Rebuffoni died Sept. 12 in Minneapolis at age 77. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 2½ years ago, and with an aggressive cancer in July, said his wife, Cathy.
“He became one of my all-time favorite writers,” said Grant Merritt, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) from 1971 to 1975. “He was talented, fair and objective,” Merritt said.
Willis Mattison, former MPCA regional director, said Rebuffoni “covered the environment so well it raised the profile of the movement. He created a narrative of the important environmental issues of the day and what that did was raise the public awareness. ... He had what all good reporters need, which is cynicism to question where people might be coming from and to push them to make sure he understood what was behind their positions.
“Dean was a champion of the little guy, by exposing the cabal between industry and politicians and how they were able to manipulate the law,” Mattison said. “I credit Dean with holding off many of the onslaughts to undermine environmental laws in Minnesota.”
Rebuffoni’s father was a coal miner who had emigrated from Italy; his mother was a second-generation Italian. The family owned a small grocery store in Pekin, Ill., where Dean grew up. He spent four years in the Navy working as a journalist, then enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, graduating in 1969 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and government. He worked for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat for six months before being hired as a reporter at the Tribune.
Cathy Rebuffoni, his wife of 51 years, said he wanted to live in Minnesota because he’d spent some summers fishing in the state as a boy. Within several years, he moved to the environmental beat. “It became his passion,” she said.
“Dean loved the outdoors,” said Jim Parsons, a friend and fellow reporter at the Star Tribune who is now retired. “He loved being out in nature.” Parsons recalls fondly a canoe trip he and Rebuffoni and two other reporters took on the Namekagon River in Wisconsin.
Son Peter Rebuffoni recalls that when he was a child, his father would take him and his brother, Lee, to wooded areas or bodies of water. “He didn’t lay it on thick, but would tell us something about it that we didn’t know,” Peter said.
Dean Rebuffoni was active in the Newspaper Guild, the union representing most newsroom workers at the Star Tribune. “His dad was a strong believer in the unions, and Dean believed the same,” his wife said. For years, he wore his father’s United Mine Workers union ring, which commemorated winning the eight-hour workday, until the ring band became too thin.
Rebuffoni retired in 1998 and worked for several years for the Sierra Club, an environmental organization. He devoted considerable time to a farm he and his wife owned near Red Wing, where they grew apple trees, raspberry bushes and grapevines. They converted 10 acres to prairie and worked with Trout Unlimited to improve Hay Creek, which wends through their land.
No memorial services are planned.