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Rich Dust: A Lansing life

Rich Dust and his wife Barb have a long history as educators in Lansing. (Photo provided)

LANSING, Ill. (December 21, 2023) – When Rich Dust graduated from Valparaiso University in 1969, it was a very different time for aspiring educators.

Unlike in these days of schools struggling to fill their staffs, the supply of teachers then exceeded the demand.

Dust came back to TF South, from which he had graduated in 1965, to teach summer school with no guarantee of a permanent position. But as fate would have it, a job opened up and he began teaching and coaching in the fall of 1969.

From then till just recently — when he resigned first as District 215 board president and then as board member for health reasons — Rich Dust has been a part of the Lansing educational community. Over more than five decades, he taught and coached generations of kids at TF South in cross country, softball, and track and field; he mentored younger teachers and coaches; and he helped shape policies that kept District 215’s high schools an attractive destination for students.

Coming back and giving back

It’s hard to imagine a world where Rich Dust didn’t come home to Lansing and TF South right after college, and instead went somewhere else to build a life.

Why did he want to come back, and why have so many others taken the same path? Dust estimates 10–15 of his former students went on to teach in District 215.

He credits the spirit of community in Lansing and at TF South. “A lot of people just want to come back and be a part of it again,” he said, citing his daughter Ellie — now a math teacher and head girls track and field coach at South — as just one example.

Talk to Dust about his life and career, and he’ll steer the conversation to the achievements of others. He speaks with pride about his daughters Ellie, Jennifer, and Emily earning all-conference honors in cross country four straight years. Bring up his work with the Lansing Historical Society, and he’ll talk about his wife Barb’s work as curator of the society’s museum. “I’m more of a helper on that,” he said.

Staying and leading

But there have been other times when Rich Dust has been at the forefront of effecting change.

He was an early proponent of girls sports at TF South, starting a separate girls cross country team in the 1970s a year before it became an IHSA-sanctioned sport.

Another legacy is what’s now the Rich Dust Invitational for cross country, which he started more than 50 years ago as a way to bring together teams from both sides of the Illinois-Indiana border.

Rich Dust
Rich Dust (center, with cap) and members of his family celebrated the 50th Rich Dust Cross Country Invitational together in 2022. (Photo provided)

Dust retired from teaching and coaching in 2006 after a 37-year career, but he didn’t walk away from sports or from District 215. He started officiating cross country, swimming, and track as a way to stay involved.

Strong academics and options

And as he saw standards slipping in the school district, he ran for the board of education. He was concerned about a bottom-line mentality that led to a decrease in AP and honors classes, and a policy of scheduling so many lunch periods that kids spent more and more time outside of school.

Under Dust’s leadership, the District 215 board strengthened graduation requirements, brought back AP classes, and made sure academics — not budget management — took priority.

At the same time, he recognized that not every kid wanted to go to college, or needed to, in order to have a successful life and career. So boosting the district’s vocational education options became another important focus.

Buildings and amenities

Ditto for maintaining and upgrading the district’s physical plant. With parts of TF North’s campus dating back to the 1930s and the oldest part of TF South to the 1950s, Dust has understood the need to keep the schools an attractive option for families looking to set down roots in Lansing and the district’s other towns.

Rich Dust
District 215 Board President Rich Dust welcomed faculty and staff to Institute Day in the newly remodeled TF North auditorium on August 17, 2023. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

One of the newest improvements at TF South is the eight-lane, all-weather track circling the new turf football field. It’s a far cry from the old cinder tracks common during Dust’s competitive days back in the ’60s. And, fittingly, it bears his name as a tribute to his work not just with the track and field program, but with every part of the student experience in District 215.

At the April 25, 2023, District 215 Board Meeting, Anita Howard (left) documented Rich Dust’s reaction to having the new TF South track named after him. Dust’s family members were in on the surprise. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Decency and legacy

When pressed, Rich Dust might tell you about his own athletic career. But he would rather redirect the conversation and talk about what his student athletes achieved: TF South boys cross country qualifying for state in 1981, the girls team winning three regionals and seven straight conference titles.

Of himself, for the record, he says he was “a decent 400 runner” in track, and he was named most valuable runner in cross country as a senior.

You could make a pretty good case that Rich Dust been District 215’s MVP as well. From student and athlete, to teacher and coach, to school board member and president, few have done more in service to Lansing and its schools. His legacy, decades in the making, will live on even longer.

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Mike Clark
Mike Clark
Mike Clark is a veteran journalist who has been covering sports in the Chicago area and beyond, from preps to pros, for more than four decades.


  1. What a great article featuring a wonderful man. Rich Dust is a rare gem in our community! We are blessed to know him! Maureen

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