Dusty Destruel, a widely beloved pillar of Santa Rosa whose family-owned lumber and construction-supply company has played a large role in the growth of Sonoma County for 102 years, died Monday.
Destruel, who succeeded his father at the helm of Mead Clark Lumber and about 20 years ago sold the firm to his two sons, was 87.
He was a standout athlete at Santa Rosa High School and at the University of Santa Clara. During World War II, he served in the Navy in the South Pacific. As a businessman, his handshake was as good a gold and his generous granting of credit or loans made all the difference to builders who struggled through hard times.
“He’d carry them and bring them out of the doldrums,” said longtime friend and occasional business partner Lee Farris.
“This guy was a real cornerstone of our community,” added Farris, owner of the Sebastopol Golf Course. “I tell you, he was a very special person. There’s not many of the old style around town anymore.”
Apart from being a smart and giving businessman, Destruel was an exceptional golfer, a big-game hunter and a fierce player of gin rummy.
“Dusty was outstanding in almost every way,” said Jim Codding, a friend since he and Destruel played high school football on opposing teams. “In business, and he was a great hunter and fisherman.”
“He always gave more than he ever asked for.”
Friends and relatives said that, above all, Destruel loved his family.
He lost his heart to Rosemary Pickard at Santa Rosa High and they married in 1948 at St. Rose Catholic Church. They had three children and a full life. Dusty Destruel cared for Rosemary throughout a long struggle with cancer that ended with her death in September.
A favorite among the corps of friends who graduated from Santa Rosa High during WWII and still meet monthly for a meal at Willy Bird Restaurant, Destruel was sapped in recent weeks by liver cancer. Two old friends, Henry Trione and John Reed, were with him when he died at his home Monday morning.
“He and I were very, very close friends,” said Trione, the retired businessman and community icon whose contributions include Annadel State Park and Empire College. “He was a remarkable man.”
Reed, who retired recently as Santa Rosa’s first full-time cardiologist, had of late been visiting Destruel daily.
“Dusty was one of those guys who had a gift for friendship, and a gift for story-telling,” he said. “And he was an enormously kind person.”
Reed said it was nothing for Destruel to drive to Healdsburg to buy a friend a favorite loaf of bread. “If he had fresh fish, he’d bring it over.”
When Jean “Dusty” Destruel was born in Santa Rosa in 1926, his father, Elie, worked at the lumber mill and yard that Mead Clark operated on the Third Street site occupied today by the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel. Clark had moved the lumber business to Santa Rosa from Iowa in 1912.
Regarding Elie Destruel much like a son, Clark offered to make him a partner in the 1930s. Elie Destruel eagerly accepted the offer. Mead Clark died in 1944, and Elie Destruel subsequently became owner of the landmark lumber company.
Dusty Destruel, who as a teen and young man shone on the football field and distinguished himself in combat, came to work for Mead Clark Lumber in 1948. Ascending the professional ladder, he had been president for four years when his father died in 1979.