It’s back to the mountains for John Rust.
The Community Education director for the past nine years has stepped down and will plant his poles in long-familiar territory: Running a ski education program.
In July, Rust left the Hood River County School District program, which provides classes, day camps and a myriad of programs for the community, to become program director for Meadows Race Team. That keeps him in Hood River, but lets him return to his initial passion.
Meadows Race Team is the organization that brought him to Hood River more than 20 years ago. He had served as program manager for Mt. Hood Summer Ski Camps for 10 years prior to taking the Community Ed job in 2009. The Meadows program serves about 200 people, though Rust is looking at gradual expansion.
“Instead of 4,000 (with Community Ed), I’ll go down to 200. Instead of doing everything, I’ll be mostly focused on skiing and outdoor education, so for me it tightens up my work a little bit,” Rust said.
“I’ll focus on skiing for a tighter group of people, building outdoor-base programs for kids.”
The Community Ed program reached its 45th anniversary in 2018; Rust inherited the job from its founder and first director, Mike Schend.
Rust said what he will miss most about Community Ed is the people — volunteers, Hood River County School District staff and the public who use the programs.
Rust leaves Community Ed with a renewed invitation to the community to fill its role in what makes the program tick.
“Providing programs is what it’s about, and our community still needs to come in because ... people bring their expertise in to our program. We’re basically the Velcro for people to share their skill with each other, and that is an incredible thing the Community Ed program offers,” he said.
He went to law school and, in Rust’s subtle humor, states, “I hooked a right and stayed in the ski industry until I hooked this job.” He turned to skiing, and then Community Ed, leaving behind the dream of a mountain climbing career. He and his wife, Lisa, are both veteran alpinists, and leading annual climbing camps at Smith Rocks has been a favorite part of Community Ed work for John.
Meadows Race Team and Cooper Spur Race Team are two youth programs that use the mountain for training and competition, along with the Multnomah Athletic Club team, who Rust works for on weekends.
“I’m excited to join them and do my passion a little more, so it’s a really good fit for me. It’s a great non-profit, and I’m super excited,” said Rust, who said he “started skiing at a relatively late, at age 9,” growing up in Idaho.
“Mostly I will be enriching kids’ lives through that medium of ski training and competition,” he said. Serving more young people may be in the future, “but for now, just ski team kids. They know I can build programs,” said Rust, who, in his Community Ed tenure, added more than three preschools, doubled the size of after school programs and put together forest-based adventure programs, all to go with the stable of community programs, day camps and regular programming such as Families in the Park. (In his final role with Community Ed, Rust helped out with the Aug. 2 Families in the Park, since it was the first of the season.)
“The thing (with Community Ed) is how much community matters,” he said. “My success is a mere reflection of the community support for the program, so we will be trying to build that same kind of community there (with Meadows Race Team). They have a good community going, but it’s trying to enrich and enhance it.”
At Community Ed, Rust said, “I learned a tremendous amount, and had such great support from people.”
He cited Human Resources Director Catherine Dalbey, District Technology Manager Tod Hilstad and Facilities Manager Cindy Williams.
“We brought it around to be financially solvent, and there are a lot of reasons that happened; in particular, technology helped. We implemented a lot of changes that have lasting impact; in particular, online registration. We took the entire school system to online facilities registration.” (Facilities was turned into a separate service under the school district.)
“I had only one year where we didn’t break even, my first year. It was running at a $200,000 deficit,” Rust recalled. Under former school superintendent Charlie Beck, the program was nearly disbanded, even though we were financially viable. We weren’t viable enough, did not have the track record, but now we have a good track record.
“We survived that, and the reason we survived is that the community is extremely supportive of the work we do for the community,” said Rust, who added his appreciation for businesses and organizations that sponsor Community Ed events. The program budget has grown from $650,000 to $1 million, all with just one full time employee besides Rust.
With Meadows Ski Team, “I’ll be working a tighter niche and trying to build out summer programs, but in little tighter market. We started that with Community Education, getting Forest Service permits and are looking to expand that kind of education, with adventure camps in the summer and winter ski programs.”
Adventure with his own family is a huge impetus for Rust’s career change: He will now be able to spend more time to spend with his wife, Lisa, a long-time teacher at Hood River Middle School, and their children, Bergen, 13, an eighth-grader; and Cooper, 9, a fourth-grader.
“They are both at the prime age to go do fun things,” he said.
“One thing for me is I’m over 50 and I figure your activity pace of life drops off with each decade and for me, I needed to spend more time with my family,” Rust said. “It was not going to happen doing (Community Ed). It takes incredible sacrifice being the Community Ed director, but it is nine years I’d never take back. This job is a job of the people, and I’ll still see everyone,” Rust said.
The district is currently advertising for Rust’s replacement; meanwhile, the Community Ed office will be moved from its temporary office at Hood River Aquatic Center either to its original home, the remodeled Nathaniel Coe Administrative Center, or to space at Westside Elementary School.