Ruby Ward may have left the farm and ranch in southeastern Idaho where she was raised, but her work keeps her mind on the farm and helping other farmers and ranchers prosper.
Ward is among the Utah State University faculty members celebrated with an Inaugural Lecture to mark having been named a full professor. In her Inaugural Lecture, Ward told friends, family and colleagues gathered at the USU president’s residence that many of her early life experiences were economics lessons in disguise.
“While the concepts stayed with me, it would be many years before I applied the correct economic terminology,” Ward said. “Thinking about economic concepts and how they affect individual’s choices and business choices became an underlying thread in my work.”
Ward related memories of the flood that resulted from the catastrophic failure of the Teton Dam. She was 5 years old when it happened, and while damage from the flood topped $300 million, she experienced the disaster on a more personal level. With the water expected at their farm in a few hours, older children told Ward to get whatever was important and go up the hill. Her 5-year-old sensibility compelled her to save her new dress.
“This concept is related to an underlying assumption in economics, that consumers will make choices so that they obtain the highest level of satisfaction,” Ward said. “In my case, a dress outweighed a doll or another toy.”
The aftermath of the flood also taught her some lessons. The day of the dam break, her family was hosting an event that drew people from around the region to look at and judge cattle. Consequently, her family had prepared several 5-gallon coolers of an orange and pineapple punch. The punch was a treat and far better than water, in Ward’s 5-year-old judgment. By afternoon and for several days after, the family and their guests could not drink the water in the house. What they did have was leftover punch.
“I was experiencing two economic concepts, diminishing marginal utility and scarcity,” Ward said. “As I drank more punch it didn’t taste as good. My ‘utility’ or satisfaction from consuming it decreased with the more I consumed. When water was abundant, I did not value it. Now that it was scarce, I really wanted water rather than more punch.”
As a professor in USU’s Department of Applied Economics, Ward’s work includes all three parts of the land grant university mission — teaching, research and Extension. She teaches agricultural finance and community planning, and beyond the classroom, Ward has delivered educational programs in Utah and the surrounding region for the past 15 years. She chaired the Diversified Agricultural Conference for 10 years and currently co-chairs the Utah Urban and Small Farms Conference. Ward is the project leader for the Rural Tax Education website (RuralTax.org) and co-chairs the National Farm Income Tax Extension Committee. She has also given many presentations on Tribal tax and financial issues.
Contact: Ruby Ward, 435-797-2323, Ruby.Ward@usu.edu
Writer: Lynnette Harris, 435-797-2189, Lynnette.Harris@usu.edu