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 email@example.com or on Twitter @bobhighfill. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at