One week ago today, Rich Casale (my dad) retired from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service after 43 years.
I’ve always admired my dad for his dedication to his work and passion for helping and inspiring others. I’ve even heard people call him ‘The Legend.’ After attending his retirement party last week and meeting some of the people he’s worked with, it’s clear he’s leaving a legacy in his wake.
Although I typically profile pros who are in the first half of their careers, I thought this pivotal career moment, one we all experience at some point, was the perfect opportunity to capture his candid advice and honor his amazing work.
What is the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)?
“The NRCS has been around for 80+ years and is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the world. We provide free (non-regulatory) technical and financial assistance to private landowners. Essentially, we are “helping people help the land.”
Tell me about your role at the NRCS. When did you start, what was your first job and how has it evolved from there?
“I actually started working with the NRCS in our Santa Barbara office back in 1974 after receiving a B.S. in Natural Resources from Humboldt State University. Back then we were called the Soil Conservation Service (SCS). I transferred to the Salinas office in 1975, which served both Monterey and Santa Cruz County at the time.
During those early years, I was working with the pioneers of our agency who started their careers in the 1930s.
In 1978, the struggling Redwood and Pajaro Resource Conservation Districts (RCD) of Santa Cruz County reorganized their boundaries to form the RCD of Santa Cruz County. The new RCD opened an office in Soquel and by 1979 it also became a NRCS office, serving only Santa Cruz County.
I applied and was offered the District Conservationist position for the new NRCS office, which I held until last Tuesday, my final day with NRCS.”
What does it feel like to walk out the door after 43 years on the job?
“I just walked out of the door a week ago, so I’m not sure what it feels like yet. Looking back on my career, I can honestly say my job defined me. Although it’s not a popular thing to admit, in my case, it’s mostly true. And I’m okay with it because I loved what I got to do every single day. Perhaps one of the things I loved doing most was giving young people a chance to get work experience as an Earth Team volunteer. I was also fortunate to work for an agency that can take a lead role in helping people and communities following natural disasters.”
What have been your biggest accomplishments over your career?
4. Assisting thousands of landowners on their private properties with disaster recovery following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, as well as Bay Area and Southern California fires, storms and flood emergencies since 1978.”
What are your thoughts on mentors?
“Mentors are an absolute necessity, formal or informal. We all need someone we admire, look up to and learn from. Mentors can also provided much needed support and encouragement.”
“I’ll return to NRCS as an Earth Team volunteer to help train my successor. I also remain open to invitations to speak, mentoring young people starting off their careers and continuing my work with agricultural organizations and community efforts. Also, as owners of Port of Travel, my wife and I will continue to plan and lead group travel adventures and educational tours around the globe.”
2. Get an “edge” that sets yourself apart from other job seekers.
3. Join and become active in professional societies.
4. Become certified, registered and/or licensed in a specialized field.
5. Volunteer to gain experience in areas you’re looking to expand your learning. Remember that any work experience, paid or unpaid, is better than no experience.
6. When interviewing, come prepared and present a professional image, but also be personable. Many employers look for chemistry/team fit first. They can teach you what you don’t know.
7. It’s ALL about connections. Knowing someone who knows someone is how many people get jobs.
8. Google yourself to make sure you have a professional online presence. Clean up your social media sites if necessary.
9. Find a job that allows you to enjoy all 7 days of the week, so you’re not just living for the weekend.
10. It’s not about how little you can do to get by in this life, it’s about how much you can do to make a difference.”