Rich Casale, right, talks to an attendee of his retirement party Friday. Casale ended a 43-year career with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on Tuesday.
WATSONVILLE — As early as kindergarten, Richard Casale knew he wanted to help people and the environment. That desire never left him, even as he graduated from Santa Barbara City College and Humboldt State University.
He retired Tuesday after a 43-year career in natural resources with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Capitola. He joined dozens of friends and colleagues for a celebration at the Heritage hall at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.
With an office in most counties, the mission of the NRCS is to address natural resource use – such as soil, water, air, plant, and animal – on private lands.
He has guided landowners through such disasters as earthquakes, floods and storms, and he most recently helped with the after effects of the Soberanes Fire in July.
According to Casale, his more than four decades in the agency puts him in the top one percent for employee longevity.
“When you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to do, why would you stop,” he said.
He is also proud of his work with the NRCS Earth Team Volunteer Program, having signed up the first three official NRCS volunteers in the nation in 1981.
Casale started in the Santa Barbara office in the spring of 1974, when the agency was still called the Soil Conservation Service.
In 1978, the struggling Redwood and Pajaro Resource Conservation Districts of Santa Cruz County reorganized to form the RCD of Santa Cruz County. The new RCD opened an office in Soquel, and was serving Santa Cruz County by May 1979.
Casale said he applied for and was offered the District Conservationist position for the new office.
He developed a national NRCS Earth Team volunteer program, and signed up the first three volunteers in the nation in 1981. To date, more than 400,000 individuals have become Earth Team volunteers, contributing more than 15 million hours of conservation work. He was honored for those efforts by the USDA secretary in 2010 in Washington D.C.
In addition to his work in Santa Cruz County, Casale also served as District Conservationist for San Mateo and San Francisco counties from 1990-2005.
Casale said he plans to stay involved, volunteering with the Earth Team program and with the Community Water Dialogue of the Pajaro Valley. He explained that he wants to put to use more than four decades of experience.
“I can still take that knowledge base and information and continue to give with it,” he said.
In a speech at his retirement ceremony, Casale said it is the people he will miss the most.
“All of you, everyone, it really does takes a village, and I’m so blessed to be a part of this village,” he said. I am eternally grateful to you all.”
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