Indiana's environment lost one of the best friends it has ever had - or ever will have - when Jane Dustin passed away the day after Thanksgiving at her home in Huntertown just north of Fort Wayne.

Former Hoosier Environmental Council Executive Director and close Dustin friend Jeff Stant put the loss this way in an e-mail to the Sierra Club's Hoosier-Topics list: "She wasn't just a well-known activist. Not just one of our leaders. When it came to the creeks, the rivers, the lakes and wetlands of our beloved state, she was the one who never rested. She was the leader. She was our leader."

Current HEC Executive Director Tim Maloney echoed his predecessor's sentiments in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: "She has been a tireless and selfless champion for decades. She has left such a mark on Indiana. She fought to strengthen water quality standards to protect public health and aquatic life. She worked on both the regulatory side and the conservation side."

And it wasn't just close friends and environmentalists who held Jane and husband Tom in that high regard. When the Journal Gazette honored the pair as its 1993 "Citizens of the Year," the editors cited "the type of citizenship the Dustins display - passionate, controversial, American-style advocacy."

In an editorial titled Jane Dustin's Legacy, the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel said last week: "Jane Dustin's tireless passion left a splendid legacy of cleaner air and water in Indiana. ... Jane Dustin was an outstanding environmentalist and even more outstanding as an active citizen. She engaged her passions, and the state is richer for her having done so."

In January 1994, Tom wrote me: "Jane really is a leading authority on the Clean Water Act. Folks from all the other organizations, including HEC, pretty much follow her lead. The fact is that while these days I focus more on a few specific issues, Jane is 'at it' every waking moment."


I met Jane Dustin a year or so before Tom's letter when I visited their home to interview Tom for my book, Eternal Vigilance, which featured a profile on him and his lifelong work on behalf of Indiana's rivers, lakes, and streams. The chapter was titled "Tom Dustin: Saving Indiana's Rivers from the Corps of Engineers." Had I known then what I know now, the chapter would have been titled: "Tom and Jane Dustin: Saving Indiana's Rivers." It should have been.

Tom spent much of that day trudging up and down the stairs to his basement office to photocopy newspaper stories and Izaak Walton League newsletter articles about the fight to stop Corps plans to channelize the Wabash River. His many trips were slowed substantially by a heavy-smoker's cough, giving Jane and I abundant time to sit around the long wooden table in their dining area and talk.

It was then that I first experienced Jane's passion and intensity. In her mid-60s, she was a consummate multi-tasker, stuffing and licking envelopes, talking about Tom and their lives and work together, all the while preparing memorable lunches, snacks, and dinners, never missing a beat. She was "at it" the entire 24 hours or so that I was at their home, as she was when I returned a few months later to photograph Tom for the book.

The focus of those trips was on Tom and the Wabash, and Jane did little to draw attention to her own accomplishments. I soon learned that Jane's contributions, as Tom described them, were "neither cosmetic nor domestic." Their pioneering environmental activism in the 1950s and 60s on the Save the Dunes Council and Allen County Reserves (later Acres Inc.) were full partnerships. And those efforts helped set the stage for the environmental movement that burst into the American consciousness following the first Earth Day in 1970.

Like Tom, Jane individually earned the national Izaak Walton League's Founders' Award, its highest honor. In 1992, she was named HEC's Conservationist of the Year. She served as Acres' secretary for 35 year and chaired both the state and national Izaak Walton League Water Quality Committees.

Jane was a recognized authority on the Clean Water Act not only in Indiana but nationally, as well. "And she doesn't take that standing passively," Tom wrote in 94.


My contact with Jane the past few years has been limited to a few chance encounters in Indianapolis when I worked at IDEM and she would come down for meetings with the commissioner. From time to time, she called to alert me to issues she thought I needed to know about. And I'd get the occasional 10 X 12 envelope from her stuffed with information about this water quality issue or that.

The last I heard from Jane was last April when she sent a $25 check to support the Indiana Environmental Report, an online environmental news service I publish. I was and am humbled to think that Jane Dustin may have used my work in hers.

With all the benefits of hindsight, I recognize today that Jane influenced my life decades before I ever met her. Indeed, every citizen in Indiana is indebted to her, not just those of us who were privileged enough to experience the fire in her eyes and the passion in her soul. All who follow will have to work that much harder. Jane Dustin is irreplaceable.

Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.


Memorial contributions can be made to the Jane H. Dustin Memorial Fund in care of Acres Inc., 2000 N. Wells St., Fort Wayne, IN 46808.