Cover photo for Russell Allen Cargo's Obituary
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1948 Russell 2021

Russell Allen Cargo

December 7, 1948 — October 17, 2021

Russ Cargo, Nonprofit Educator and Entrepreneur Dies

Russell “Russ” Allen Cargo died on October 17, 2021, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. He resided in retirement in Star Valley Ranch, WY.

Dr. Cargo was a leading figure in the development of nonprofit management as an academic discipline. Although he retired from a full-time academic position in 2008, he continued to contribute to advancing the understanding of nonprofit organizations and promoting efforts to educate the public about the critical role nonprofit organizations play in a democratic society.

Cargo was born in Youngstown, OH, in 1948. His father, Benjamin Rosser Cargo, and his mother, Martha Virginia Harnar, were both from Warren, OH. Cargo attended Hiram College in Ohio, and graduated from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX, where he was commissioned in the US Army in 1971. Later that year he married Elizabeth “Beth” Bryant of Vincennes, IN. Following his Army assignment at the Headquarters Allied Land Forces Southeastern Europe and the Sixth Allied Tactical Air Force Headquarters in Izmir, Turkey, the Cargos completed graduate degrees at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

Cargo began his professional career in the art museum field but after his wife joined the US Air Force in 1978, he worked as a civilian for the Air Force. First, as a recreation specialist overseeing recreation centers and base travel agencies from HQ USAF in Europe and later as the outdoor recreation administrator at AF Headquarters Military Personal Center (MPC) in San Antonio, TX. He guided the development of an outdoor recreation training school at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, which resulted in a dramatic reduction in off-duty accidents and fatalities among Air Force personnel. Cargo earned a master’s degree in business administration from Boston University during that period.

In 1990, Cargo was named president of the San Antonio Art Institute, just after the completion of a Ph.D. degree from the University of Colorado. His wife’s transfer to AF Headquarters in Washington, DC in 1993 forced another move, and he began a full-time academic career developing curricula for managers of nonprofit organizations. He was responsible for starting and growing nonprofit education programs at George Mason University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech. During his academic career he worked with the US State Department’s Democracy Program providing assistance to Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in many countries around the world but particularly in the Middle East. He retired from Virginia Tech as director of their Nonprofit and Civil Society Program in 2008.

Upon his retirement from teaching, he moved to Helena, MT, where he worked as a consultant through the firm he established in 1998, Third Sector Services, LLC, and he has introduced nonprofit management education to the curriculum at the American Public University, a private online university, and Carroll College, where he taught as a part-time adjunct professor between 2009 and 2015.

Since, he engaged in outdoor recreation activities, his real passion, regardless of the season. Retirement also provided Cargo with the opportunity to become re-engaged in the field of art history and the completion of a book chronicling the biographies and contributions of those who forged a vital nonprofit sector in the United States, The Evolution of America’s Nonprofit Sector.

Cargo had leadership roles in many nonprofit organizations over the years, but he was particularly active in the Nonprofit Academic Centers Council (NACC), an international organization supporting nonprofit higher education. In Montana he served on the boards of the Montana Nonprofit Association, the Holter Museum of Art, the Original Montana Club Board of Governors, the Original Governors Mansion Restoration Society, and the Rotary Club of Helena Sunrise where he was a Paul Harris Fellow. He also served on the executive committee of Montana Campus Compact. He was a member of the Last Chance Tennis Association, the Last Chance Backcountry Horsemen, the Prickly Pear Sportsman’s Club, and the Green Meadow Country Club. In Wyoming he was a member of the Town of Star Valley Ranch’s Natural Resources Board and the Star Valley Ranch Trail Crew.

Cargo is survived by a brother, Roger Cargo (Linda Cargo) of Greensboro, NC, daughters Elizabeth Cargo Esser (Andy Esser) of Apex, NC and Sarah Cargo (Scott Lizer) of Bozeman, MT, and his former wife, Elizabeth “Beth” Cargo, Col., USAF, (Ret) of Cary, NC. He leaves four granddaughters, Mary Alice Esser, Amity Esser, Genevieve Esser, and Elena Lizer.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests any expressions of sympathy be made in Dr. Cargo’s name to Hillsdale College.

Condolences & memories may be shared with the family at

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