Ruston has honored its founder, William Ross Rust, with a life-sized bronze bust in the heart of the small city’s business district.
The statue, located at the corner of North 51st and Winnifred streets, was installed in May by Gig Harbor artist Paul Michaels. It was bolted to an angled concrete column designed to honor Ruston’s industrial roots.
The public art piece memorializes Rust’s life and his contributions as a businessman, activist and philanthropist.
Formed in 1888 as a company town, Ruston grew along with the fortunes of the ore-smelting plant that Rust bought in 1890, Michaels said.
Originally known as Smelterville, Ruston was (and is) surrounded by Tacoma on three sides, but Rust encouraged citizens to maintain their independence and incorporate as a town, according to the late historian Murray Morgan.
In 1906, Rust financed the venture, and citizens named the new town in his honor.
Rust was active in the community and made contributions that often went unnoticed, Michaels said. Of particular note was his gift to help pay for the original Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital building in Tacoma.
Built in 1954 at a cost of $800,000, half of the funding for the hospital came from Albert W. Bridge with the stipulation the hospital be named after his mother, Mary Bridge. The other half came from the Rust Trust.
The fund, which has generated millions, was established when Rust sat on the board of Tacoma General Hospital before he died in 1928 at age 78. Rust left half his fortune to family members and the other half to the trust, Michaels said.
His gift might have been forgotten if it not for the efforts of longtime Tacoma businesswoman Griselda “Babe” Lehrer, said John Trueman, president of the Ruston-Point Defiance Business District.
Lehrer, who died in January at age 93, was long a champion of the unsung heroes of the South Sound.
She had a hand in public art memorials including the sculpture of Marvin Klegman outside Lowell Elementary School. Marvin was an 11-year-old student safety patrol boy at Lowell when he died during an earthquake in 1949.
The Rust memorial was Lehrer’s final fundraising project.
Trueman said she approached the business district.
“We were already involved in business district improvements, and we knew we wanted to do something historical for the district,” Trueman said. “Babe pitched the idea of the Rust memorial, and we knew it was crucial that we get it done.”
Among the contributors were Rust’s granddaughters, Helen Rust Watts and Margaret “Peggy” Rust Sheard, and his great-granddaughter, Carol Rust Paulick.
The bronze bust took four months to complete. Michaels had worked on other public projects with Lehrer, including the Top of the Ocean memorial on the Ruston Way waterfront and the statue of minor-league baseball pioneer Ben Cheney sitting in the bleachers at Cheney Stadium.
Michaels recreated Rust’s likeness from a large portrait.
“I wanted the statue to represent Rust when he was managing the smelter,” Michaels said. “The portrait was painted during that time period. He would have been between 40 and 50 years old.”
Rust’s roots in mining, management and metallurgy reached back to the Western gold rush.
After selling his interests in Colorado in 1887, he purchased the two-year-old Ryan Smelter on the shores of Commencement Bay. In 1890 he completely remodeled the plant, according to Morgan’s historical records.
At the time he bought it, the plant employed 30 men and processed 50 to 60 tons of ore per day.
By the time Rust sold the business in 1905 for $5.5 million, the smelter employed 1,600 workers, processed 2,000 tons of copper ore per day and generated $30 million in annual revenue, according to Morgan’s history.
The smelter operated for years under the ownership of Asarco until it was closed in 1983. It has a mixed legacy of economic fortune and environmental contamination that continues to this day.
The Ruston-Point Defiance Business District is selling bricks with personalized inscriptions for $100 a piece to off-set the cost of the project. The bricks will be laid to create a plaza around the memorial.
A public dedication will be held this fall after the brick plaza and improvements to Winnifred Street are finished, Trueman said.
David Anderson: (253) 597-8670