In Loving Memory of Tom Dustin
1923 - 2004
By Kevin Kilbane
Nature Lobbyist Dustin Mourned Statewide
Environmental activist praised by colleagues and opponents alike after his death Friday.
Longtime local environmentalists Tom and Jane Dustin might be better remembered for their
vocal and sometimes fierce efforts to protect the environment. But the Huntertown-area
couple also tried to interest new generations of people in safeguarding natural resources
and to prepare those converts for the battles lying ahead.
Early Friday, Tom Dustin passed the torch -- and the challenge -- to those new generations
when he died after an extended illness. Arrangements are pending; his age and place of
death were unavailable late Friday.
His death came seven months after the death of his wife in November.
"I don't know if there is anybody who can fill those shoes," said Ron James, president of
the Fort Wayne chapter of the Izaak Walton League, a national conservation group.
"Certainly there are people who are better prepared because of Tom and Jane's work."
The Dustins began their battle here to save the environment in the 1950s, working with
others to protect what later became Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes
State Park along the state's Lake Michigan shoreline.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, Tom Dustin almost single-handedly served as the
environmental lobby in the Indiana legislature, said Steven Higgs of Bloomington,
a former reporter who now produces a weekly online publication, Bloomington Alternative.
Higgs featured the Dustins prominently in his 1995 book,"Eternal Vigilance: Nine Tales of
Environmental Heroism in Indiana." Tom Dustin also was environmental affairs adviser for
the Indiana Izaak Walton League for the last few decades.
In the early 1970s, Dustin's work resulted in phosphates being banned from laundry
detergent in Indiana, Higgs said. Phosphates had been found to cause algae blooms in
lakes and streams, which resulted in fish kills and the gradual death of lakes. The
Dustins also opposed landfill expansions and helped protect what became Fox Island
County Park southwest of Fort Wayne.
During the 1980s, Tom Dustin helped southern Indiana environmentalists protect Hoosier
National Forest from clear-cut logging, Higgs said. Dustin also helped get a portion of
the forest set aside as the Charles C. Deam Wilderness.
"Tom and Jane Dustin were giants in the Indiana environmental movement," Higgs said.
"They have been inspirations to hundreds if not thousands of environmentalists all over
At a recent memorial gathering for Jane Dustin, longtime environmentalists stood with
parents of elementary-age children, college students and neighbors.
"They really energized a lot of people," said David Van Gilder, a friend and president
of ACRES land trust. The Dustins were among 16 people who founded ACRES, which has worked
since 1960 to preserve natural areas in northeast Indiana.
Tom Dustin's skills as a writer and orator made him a statewide voice for environmental
conservation, said Paul McAfee, president of the Little River Wetlands Project.
"He had such a logical and impassioned way of presenting it, people listened," said
McAfee, whose group is seeking to restore wetlands that once linked the St. Marys River
west of Fort Wayne to the Wabash River system.
The Dustins' diligent research and doggedness also won admiration, even from opponents.
"You couldn't ignore them," said Allen County Commissioner Ed Rousseau, who faced off
against the Dustins for 30 years on issues ranging from managing legal drains to a
flood-control project that involved widening the Maumee River east of Fort Wayne.
"They never wore out and went away."
While they at times came across as aggressive, the Dustins always did their homework,
Rousseau said. Their research frequently saved the county from discovering it needed to
fix or change work during a construction job.
"A lot of times, the Dustins' objections would bring about better engineering of the
project," he said.
Although at times also on the opposite side of the table, state officials expressed
gratitude for the Dustins' work.
"Both Tom and Jane were advocates for keeping our doors open and inviting citizens in to
our rule-marking and permitting processes," said Lori Kaplan, commissioner of the Indiana
Department of Environmental Management.
The Dustins -- and Tom in particular -- helped secure passage of laws allowing the
Indiana Department of Natural Resources to set aside nature preserves, DNR officials said.
"Tom Dustin was a true conservationist who was doggedly determined to make government
better," said John Goss, DNR director.
That job now will rest in the hearts and hands of a broad-based group of people the
Dustins have tried to inspire and prepare.
"They understood the next generation has to fight as it sees fit," the Izaak Walton
League's James said. "But they also wanted to arm them with the institutional knowledge
July 11, 2004
The Journal Gazette
By Frank Gray
Dustin leaves legacy of local, national environmental crusades
Tom Dustin, an environmentalist whose tenacity and love of the outdoors
brought changes locally and nationwide, died Friday. He was 80.
Dustin – who was professionally an advertising manager, technical writer
and public relations man – was also involved in several other areas,
ranging from the arts to scouting.
He was best known in Fort Wayne for his passionate opposition to the Maumee
River widening project in the 1980s, designed to prevent flooding, and for
his efforts to limit construction of the General Motors plant, in which he
sought more stringent controls on the emissions the plant was expected to
generate. Dustin’s reputation, however, was national.
His first involvement in environmental issues came in the mid-1950s, when
he and wife Jane became involved in scores of conservation campaigns,
including one opposing a federal plan to flood Dinosaur National Monument
In the 1960s he was part of the drive to create the Indiana Dunes National
Lakeshore and in the 1970s spearheaded the drive to remove phosphate from
detergents in Indiana. After his victory here, other states quickly followed.
In the 1970s he was named to a presidential task force for the National Parks Service
in which he helped develop steering for the national parks for the next 100
John Dustin, his son, said his father was an avid outdoorsman who learned
his appreciation of the outdoors from his grandfather and later from his
wife’s family. He was a hiker and backpacker who loved exploring the outdoors
of Wyoming and Oregon, and those experiences reinforced his commitment to
His wife, who died nine months ago, came from a similar background. She was
a water expert, and the two made a formidable team.
He was among the co-founders of Acres Inc., a land preservation group; had
been business manager of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic; director of the
Limberlost Girl Scout Council; director of the Fort Wayne Art School and
Museum; national vice president of the Izaak Walton League; the first
president of the Allen County Park and Recreation Board, where he helped
develop Fox Island Park and Nature Preserve; and president of the Hoosier
“He wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything,” said Connie Wick, who worked
with him for more than 30 years on environmental causes. She said many
people had a sort of love-hate relationship with him. “You might disagree
with him, but you couldn’t help but admire him. He attended meetings of
water and air pollution control boards when only high-powered executives
attended. He helped us develop the nerve to go up against those heavy-metal
Dustin educated himself by reading, attending seminars and poring through
government reports. “He let no page go unturned” when pursuing environmental
issues, Wick said.
Dustin’s involvement in the Izaak Walton League came about almost by
accident when he bought land for a home overlooking Cedar Creek in northern
Allen County. The league’s clubhouse and nature preserve were next door to
the property. He joined the organization in 1960 and was state secretary
within three years. In the end he served 13 years as the group’s executive
director and principal lobbyist.
“He was an expert in his field,” John Dustin said. “He taught me that you
don’t get rules changed by breaking the rules. You get the rules changed by
working within the rules,” and he did that using evidence and fact.
Even in his old age when he was largely homebound, Wick said, “He’d fire
off grenades that would cause people to sit up and take notice.”
Allen County Commission Ed Rousseau, who has known Dustin for more than 30
years, said the county’s residents were better served because of Dustin’s
scrutiny. Although Rousseau and Dustin were on opposite sides of many issues,
they had a heart-to-heart talk after Dustin’s wife died last year.
“He and I have parted on extremely good terms,” Rousseau said.
July 12, 2004
Big Eastern Blog
By Marty Lucas
Just a few months ago, Jane Dustin passed away. On Friday, Jane's husband
Tom also passed away. Tom and Jane now pass into the the legend of 'eternal
vigilance' that is environmentalism in Indiana. You've got to be tough, persistent,
patient and you've got to continue on even when there seems to be no hope
that anything good can be accomplished. You've got to balance a sense of
outrage with a sense of humor. The Dustins, who worked together as a team,
did all these things. They not only accomplished a lot, they served as an
inspiration to many others. From the generation that founded environmentalism
in northern Indiana, none contributed more than the Dustins.
July 13, 2004
An Incomparable Advocate
Tom Dustin was northeast Indiana’s most knowledgeable and effective
advocate for the environment. And his influence went far beyond the area
to affect policies statewide and in other parts of the nation.
To Fort Wayne residents, Dustin, who died last week at the age of 80,
may be best known for being a thorn in the side of local officials who
decided in the aftermath of the 1982 flood that widening and dredging
the Maumee River from the confluence eastward was the most realistic
plan available to reduce flood levels.
Dustin fought the plan at every turn, arguing that not only would the
widening kill trees and wildlife, but it would simply send floodwaters
downstream more rapidly, damaging the river channel and causing even more
flooding downstream. Dustin’s efforts ultimately failed, and though
officials still praise the flood-control benefits of the project, the
erosion of the river channel has been documented, most prominently by
washouts of a trail along the widened river.
The river-widening project was just one of countless environmental battles
Dustin fought. He is credited with being in the forefront of efforts to
eliminate the polluting phosphates commonly found in detergents until the
1970s. He successfully fought to protect the Hoosier National Forest in
southern Indiana from clear-cut logging. He and his wife, Jane, were
involved in a number of other environmental causes dating back to the
mid-1950s, when they fought a proposed dam project in Utah that would have
flooded one of their favorite camping spots.
Together, the couple – The Journal Gazette’s Citizens of the Year in
1993 – were a tandem to be reckoned with, and their knowledge of
environmental issues was as strong as their passion for nature and
environmental protection. An advertising and public relations man by trade,
Dustin knew how to capture the public’s attention and how to sway public
Dustin was an even stronger environmental steward than he was an advocate.
He helped form the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, was instrumental in
beginning Fox Island County Park and was a founder of ACRES, Inc., which
buys land and makes sure it remains undeveloped.
Though best known for his environmental work, Dustin was interested in a
number of public policy issues and served on numerous boards.
Dustin died just seven months after his wife and two years after fellow
environmentalist William Bloch
Northeast Indiana residents can only hope that a new generation of
effective environmental stewards and advocates will emerge over the next
For anyone who cares about nature, environment and the responsibilities of
citizenship, there may be no better role model than Tom Dustin.