Roswell Garst, the Coon Rapids, lowa, farmer and agricultural entrepreneur who played host to the late Soviet Premier Nikita Khuruchchev in the days of the Cold War, died of a heart ailment Saturday in a hospital near his home. He was 79.
Mr. Garst made his mark as a grower of hybrid corn. His fortune was based on a firm that sold seed for high-yield corn, but he also had interests in a bank, a cattle business, and several thousands of acres of land, some of which he operated for absentee owners.
It was his expertise in corn that brought him into contact with the Soviets and with Khruchchev.
In 1955, he arranged the first sale of U.S. corn seed to the Soviet Union. It was for 5,000 tons - a minute fraction of the enormous grain deals between the United States and Moscow today - but it was enough to draw criticism from Mr. Garst's conservative fellow lowans.
The New York Times described his moe - and the trip to Moscow that he made to consumate it - as something that "created a repidly growing sentiment of good will and warm friendship for the United States."
Mr. Garst himself often said that his favorite quotation was from the writings of the English philosopher John Stuart Mill. It reads: "The despotism of custom is everywhere a hindrance to human advancement."
It was in the spirit of breaking the "custom" of not helping the Soviets - and the spirit of his own dictum that "I reserve the right to raise hell with anyone" - that Mr. Garst embarked upon his efforts to improve Soviet agriculture.
These efforts reached a climax when Khrushev, then on an official visit to the United States, visited the Garst farm in Coon Rapids.
After a fried chicken luncheon, Mr. Garth and his famous guest stood on a mound of corn husks and talked to reporters covering the event. In the course of the interview, Mr. Garst took to throwing corn cobs at the members media.
Khrushchev remarked, "I have seen today how the slaves of capitalism live, and they live pretty well."
Mr. Garst stated his own purpose for having the Soviet leader on his farm in an interview shortly before the visit.
"Mr. Khrushchev's primary interest is to find out why 12 per cent of the people in the United States can produce enough food for the 100 per cent, and with a diet high in the meat type of human protein and why it takes 50 per cent of the people in the Soviet Union to produce a diet substantially lower in the meat type of human protein. This is what I basically intend to help him discover."
Following Khrushchev's forced resignation from politics in 1964, Mr. Garst's contact with the Soviets declined. But they had begun to revive by the early 1970 and he once described himself as a sort of corn-belt "Brigitt Bardot" for visiting Russians.
Mr Garst was born in Rockford, Ill., on June 14, 1898. Two weeks later, his parents brought him to Coon Rapieds. He spent the rest of his life on the farm except for four years when he was in the real estate business.
Survivors include his wife. Elizabeth, of the home in Coon Rapids, and the three daughters and two sons.