Jack Rajala, a leader in the state’s logging and lumber industries for decades and the godfather of modern efforts to restore Minnesota’s stately white pine forests, died early Tuesday after battling cancer. He was 77.

Rajala, the patriarch of an Itasca County family that has managed and milled pine lumber for decades, grew up in Effie and Bigfork. He followed his father, Art, and grandfather, Ivar, in the family wood products business, which was founded in the 1930s.

Jack was CEO for Rajala Companies of Deer River, a group of the family’s businesses that produce lumber for furniture, framing homes, etc; veneer used in fine cabinetry, doors and windows; mouldings, and a variety of other wood products.

He graduated from St. Olaf College (where he was a football star) with a degree in accounting but was drawn to the north woods he grew up in, said his daughter, Allison Rajala Ahcan.

“He came back and helped grow these businesses in the woods, all the time accumulating the love not just of what he was doing but for the trees as well,’’ she said. “He was a self-taught forester.”

His family reports that he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in late May. He died in his home overlooking trees he had planted. Just weeks before he was diagnosed, Ahcan said, her dad planted 14,000 seedlings by hand.

“He spent his last days looking out at the trees he loved. That was his wish,’’ Ahcan said.

Rajala was respected across the state’s timber industry.

“Jack Rajala was one of the giants of our modern-day industry. He had a passion for the woods that was unsurpassed,’’ Wayne Brandt, executive vice president of the Minnesota Forest Industries trade group, told the News Tribune. “Jack gave his time and his talents to many organizations and causes that made a difference in our state and our country.”

Just over one year ago, Minnesota Power dedicated a new forest-management effort in honor of Rajala, promising to plant up to 3 million white pine, red pine, jack pine and spruce seedlings over the next 10 years on 3,000 acres across the region.

The utility said its new “Rajala Woods Initiative” is a $1.4 million effort to “restore and enhance white pine and other conifer tree species through management practices that will ensure the sustainable use of the forest, improve biodiversity, conserve aquatic resources and enhance wildlife habitat and recreation.”

The effort follows Rajala’s example; he planted more than 3.5 million white pines in recent decades in addition to 1.5 million red pines. Rajala literally wrote the book - 1998’s “Bringing Back the White Pine” - on how to restore the conifer that was nearly extirpated from Minnesota by excessive logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Recovery for the white pine was further hampered by the influx north of hungry white-tailed deer into the area and the invasive blister rust fungus from Europe that is deadly to the big pines.

“They had a lot of failures. They lost a lot of trees at first. But he kept at it and, eventually, succeeded,’’ Ahcan said.

Rajala insisted that careful management, re-planting and care of white pines could bring the tree back and sustain it not just for the lumber industry but for wildlife habitat and its sheer beauty. He advocated for so-called bud-capping, a method to keep deer from eating the primary stems of young white pine seedlings. And he helped develop trees resistant to blister rust.

“One of the interesting things with the forest is you don’t deal with any one life. You deal with all the trees in the forest,” Rajala said when he was honored in May 2015. “We plant more trees ... nature itself is always replacing, too… Nature is complicated, and right now it’s compromised. It’s our responsibility to help it along.”

Rajala had partnered in the family businesses with his brothers Randy and Dean (Dean died in March) as well as his sons John and Nik (Nik died in an airplane crash in 2014.)

Jack Rajala had served in leadership roles with many regional and national groups, including the Minnesota Timber Producers Association, the American Forest Council, American Lumber Standards Committee, past member of Board of Governors for the National Forest Products Association, and Minnesota Forest Industries. Jack served as a regent of Concordia College in Moorhead, was a board member of Minnesota Power, president of St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, and a director of Grand Rapids State Bank.

Funeral services will be held Monday at 11 a.m. in St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, with visitation at 10 a.m. and on Sunday from 3 to 6 p.m. Arrangements are by Rowe Funeral Home. Memorials are requested to the Nik Rajala Memorial Fund for mentoring young loggers at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation.

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