Haggin Museum longtime staffer Susan Obert named new CEO

The Stockton Record
Published April 23, 2021

The Haggin Museum has announced longtime staffer Susan Obert has been named its new CEO, with board leaders calling her “the right person at the right time” for the iconic Stocktoninstitution. She will be the first woman to lead the nearly 100-year-old museum, a “treasured institution” she says it will be an honor to serve.

Obert will step into the role May 22, succeeding CEO and Curator Tod Ruhstaller, who announced his retirement in January after 37 years of service.

Obert has been with the museum for 19 years, as director of development, then as deputy director,The Haggin said in a news release announcing her appointment.

Haggin Museum: Ruhstaller reflects on endings, new beginnings ahead of a milestone week for the museum
With The Haggin’s 90th anniversary coming up in June, Obert said she is “honored and committed to taking on this next chapter in The Haggin’s future.”

“The Haggin could not have a more qualified person to serve as its next CEO than Susan,” saidRuhstaller, who told The Record earlier this month how happy he was with the selection of his replacement.

“In the 19 years she has been with the museum as its director of development and later as its deputy director, she has not only become familiar with practically every aspect of this institution’s everyday operations and management but has also become its public face through her many community outreach efforts and various social media platforms,” he said.

Obert said that while the museum has a world-class collection as its foundation, its strength has always been the museum’s volunteers, members, and the community.

Obert’s experience “is rooted in fund development, which provides her with a clear understanding of the importance for institutional financial sustainability, which has become even more critical as we emerge from the pandemic,” the museum said in the statement.

The museum cites her marketing and business background along with her deep commitment to community collaboration as factors in their choice. Her work in securing James Irvine Foundation grants led to the 2017 reinterpretation and redesign of The Haggin’s core art galleries, allowing the museum to “think bigger than we normally did … to think more about the community and people we’re serving,” she told The Record in 2010.

“As a committee, we took our responsibility of being stewards of the Haggin Museum legacy very seriously,” John McKinley, board chairman, and search committee member said. “Susan stood out as an experienced and highly-regarded leader who is deeply connected in our community and committed to collaboration. We felt strongly that she would be the right person at the right time for the institution.”

Obert was born in San Francisco and raised in Southern California, but since graduating from California State University, Fresno with her master’s degree in sports marketing, she has lived in the San Joaquin Valley. She and Andy Raugust moved to Stockton in 1998 while he was working on the course design for The Reserve at Spanos Park, and she enjoys outdoor activities such as sports, gardening, and walking with her Australian shepherd, Frank.

Obert has spent her entire career working in the nonprofit sector and her experience prior to working for the museum includes Delta Health Care in Stockton, Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock and the Fresno State Athletic Department in Fresno.

She says she has always been active in the community, from being a founding member of the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of California to her work as a board member and current treasurer of VisitStockton.

Haggin Museum CEO and curator Tod Ruhstaller announces his retirement

by Bob Highfill, The Record
Published Jan. 7, 2021

STOCKTON – The Haggin Museum is losing one of its greatest treasures. Tod Ruhstaller has announced he will retire as chief executive officer and curator of history effective May 21. Ruhstaller and his wife of 39 years, Sandi, plan to move to the Wilmington, Delaware, area to be closer to one of their daughters and two of their three grandchildren. They also will have more opportunities to visit their daughter and her family in Denver.

“Tod’s impact on the Haggin Museum and our community will benefit us for decades to come,” said John McKinley, chair of the Haggin Museum’s Board of Trustees. “As a board, we recognize and thank Tod for his leadership in focusing on the museum’s mission and inspiring us all to recognize the importance of arts and culture in our community and society.”

Ruhstaller has been with the Haggin nearly 37 years, beginning when he was hired as curator of history. In 1988, Ruhstaller was promoted to director and curator. In 2010, his title changed to chief executive officer and curator. Prior to joining the Haggin, Ruhstaller was an archaeologist out of the University of California, Davis, and helped found the Far Western Anthropological ResourceGroup, a cultural resources consulting firm.

For close to a century, the Haggin Museum in Victory Park has been a Stockton institution, featuring works of art from the late-19th and early-20th centuries and historic pieces from the Central Valley and elsewhere. The museum’s origin can be traced to 1928, when Robert T. McKeeoffered the San Joaquin Pioneer and Historical Society $30,000 to build a history museum on behalf of his wife, Eila Haggin McKee, who required the museum be named in honor of her late father, Louis Terah Haggin; and that an art wing be added filled with paintings from her father’s collection.

Those who have worked with Ruhstaller said he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the museum’s art and history collections, and Stockton’s history.

“Tod Rustaller is one of the greatest things that ever happened to the Haggin Museum and Stockton,” said retired businessman Dick McClure, who has served 10 years on the Haggin board.

“He truly loves Stockton. He truly embraced its history in a very positive way and he was able to present it and relate it to the public of Stockton, the citizens of Stockton.”

Carol Ornelas, CEO of Visionary Home Builders in Stockton and a board member for eight years, described Ruhstaller as a “brilliant man of the arts.”

“It’s fascinating even to go to board meetings because there’s always history,” she said. “It’s very stimulating when he speaks about it, and his passion for the Haggin Museum has always been so phenomenal. He was the perfect fit for the museum.”

The board has established a search committee to find a replacement.

Susan Obert, deputy director of the museum, has worked 18 years with Ruhstaller and credits his ability to network and share the museum’s message in an enjoyable and palatable manner in helping the Haggin receive international acclaim.

“Tod loves the curator and history side of what he does and Stockton’s true history,” Obert said.“He takes great pride in his family’s roots in the community and he loves tying those stories into he does at the museum. I think it was a dream job for him.”

Ruhstaller’s parents, Annette and Dr. Frank Ruhstaller, met at the University of California, Berkeley. Tod was born in San Francisco but the family soon moved to Stockton, where Frank was a local pediatrician for almost 50 years and Annette raised Tod and his three brothers. Tod shared an interest in history with his mother, who studied history at Cal.

“She was my greatest resource,” Ruhstaller said about Annette, who passed away in 1999. “She grew up in Stockton and the two of us had that passion for history.”

Ruhstaller said his most fond accomplishments included steering the museum into far better financial footing than when he became director, achieving accreditation from the AmericanAlliance of Museums and renovations to the art galleries, including a collection of artwork by J.C.Leyendecker, who perhaps is most famous for his covers of the Saturday Evening Post.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is we started the conservation of these pieces,” Ruhstaller.”They were part of a major renovation of all of our art galleries.”

Ruhstaller also helped attract traveling exhibits, hosted numerous speakers and visitors from all walks of life, including children through the museum’s education department that provided hands-on events for families such as art projects and interactive programs.

“The people I’ve worked with, the staff and volunteers and the friends I’ve made and the visitors I’ve met that share my interest,” said Ruhstaller when asked what he’ll miss. “It’s going to be tough, but there are grandchildren that I want to watch grow up, not on FaceTime but in real time.”

Record reporter Bob Highfill covers education, community news, and the wine industry. He can be reached at jhighfill@recordnet.com or on Twitter @bobhighfill. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at

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