Celebrating the Woman Behind Augustana’s Sharon Lust School of Education

September 2, 2020

Written by Public Relations & Communications Strategist Jill Wilson


On July 29, Augustana University announced a $2 million gift that helped in the creation of the Sharon Lust School of Education, located in the Madsen Social Science Center on the university’s campus. This generous donation comes from John Lust ‘90 and Jeanelle (Robson) Lust ‘91, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in honor of John’s mother, Sharon Lust.

“This gift will help empower generations of future educators and lifelong learners,” said John Lust, a former member of the Augustana Board of Trustees. “We didn’t have to think about it very long. It just felt so perfect because of the legacy and passion my mother had for education.”

The Sharon Lust School of Education will help spur Augustana’s strategic plan — Viking Bold: The Journey to 2030 — that was unanimously approved by the Augustana Board of Trustees in December 2019. Phase I of Viking Bold includes establishing new academic structures and centers that sustain excellence, facilitate growth, and cultivate innovative and impactful teaching, learning and research. 

“Augustana is enormously grateful to the Lust family for the transformative gift for the Sharon Lust School of Education,” said President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. “Our vision for the School of Education builds on Augustana’s longstanding tradition of providing an education of enduring worth as well as creating new and expanded interactions for research and learning and innovative forms of teaching that will inspire a new generation of teachers and educators.”

The Lusts have also established a scholarship for secondary education majors in honor and memory of Jeanelle’s grandparents, LaVerne and Ava (Davis) Williams. They, too, dedicated their careers to education — LaVerne as a superintendent of schools in several small towns in eastern South Dakota and Ava as a teacher, having earned her teaching certification at Augustana in 1929.

The Woman Behind the Name

Strong. Witty. Great educator.

These are just a few of the words Augustana alumnus John Lust uses to describe his mother, Sharon Lust.

John's father died when he was just 11 years old and his sister, Julie O’Reilly ‘92 at 8, but their mother never missed a beat. 

“For us kids, of course, it was very difficult to lose our dad, but it was seamless in that we never felt we were lacking anything. She just kept everything moving,” said John.

Sharon graduated from the University of South Dakota. The single mother received her teaching certificate from Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, as well as a master’s degree in psychology. Sharon was a longtime educator at Simmons Middle School in Aberdeen from 1985-2000, and Aberdeen Central High School from 2000-2006. 

It was evident that Sharon had a lasting impact on the students she taught. In June of 2007, a former student, who became a professor in Virginia, left his dissertation on Sharon’s front door. He had commemorated it to her.

The dissertation of Dr. Robert Mathias Marmorstein read, “This dissertation is dedicated to Mrs. Sharon Lust, my junior high reading teacher. Mrs. Lust is an exemplary teacher. In the classroom she is a brilliant and engaging instructor. Her reading class made a significant impact on me. She demands excellence from her students, but helps them to develop the skills they need to meet her expectations. Outside the classroom she is her students’ strongest advocate. For years after I finished her class she opened doors for me and other students by recommending us for contests, journals, and other academic opportunities. She is a model of everything I hope to be as a teacher and scholar.” 

Sharon retired in 2006, but that did not mean she stopped educating others. John says she would correct spelling and grammar errors in the Aberdeen American News and mail them to the paper. In July of 2007, her Letter to the Editor was even published in Vanity Fair.

While teaching was her passion, Sharon’s grandchildren meant the world to her. Jeanelle Lust recalls when their eldest son was born and her mother-in-law would come to babysit.

Jeanelle said, “She (Sharon) would not put him down. She just held Joe the whole time and would say, ‘Well, I’m here. I can sleep when I get home.’”

Deep Connections to Augustana University 

Dick Niebuhr ’66, a longtime Aberdeen resident, as well as a member of the Augustana Fellows and the Board of Trustees, was a close friend to the Lust family. Neibuhr made significant impacts in the form of gifts to his alma mater. Before he passed away in 2009, the Huron native donated $100,000 to endow the Vernon and Mildred Niebuhr Faculty Excellence Award, an annual award to recognize excellence in teaching. His second had come in the form of an estate gift of $2.5 million in 2013, to support scholarships for Augustana’s top incoming students.

John Lust said, “He (Neibuhr) was just extremely passionate. He never married and never had kids. Augustana was literally his family and the broader he could make his family the better.”

For Niebuhr, attending Augustana was a natural progression to life.

“It’s just what you did,” according to John. “If you asked him (Niebuhr) about Augustana, you had better have a half-hour.”

Niebuhr had been the driving force behind John and his sister, Julie O’Reilly ‘92, attending the university. 

"She (Sharon) was very supportive of us going to Augustana, even though both her and my dad were USD grads.”

And nearly 60 years after Jeanelle's grandmother attended the university, Augustana is where John would meet his wife, Jeanelle.

At the time, John had been the President of the Augustana College Republican Party and Jeanelle says she was under the misimpression that she was a Republican as well. She was also friends with the girl next door to where John was living — across from the Gilbert Science Center known as “The Chicken Coop.”

The two eventually moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Jeanelle was a lawyer for 25 years and John owned a car dealership for 12, but moved back to Sioux Falls last year after selling the business in 2007. 

“There’s too much South Dakota in me. I never lost that feeling that (living in Nebraska) was temporary,” said John.

John joined the Fellows Cabinet in 2002, and the Board of Trustees in 2007, to which he dedicated 12 years. John and Jeanelle also dedicate their time as members of the steering committee on the Viking Bold campaign.

John and Jeanelle say they encouraged their children to look around at other colleges, but they had zero desire to look elsewhere. Joe Lust ‘20, graduated from Augustana in the spring. Their youngest son, Jack Lust ‘23, is a sophomore.

John says before this opportunity to contribute to his mother’s memory came along, nothing felt right. Now, more than a decade after Sharon’s death in 2010, he says the way in which they’re honoring his mother feels perfect.

School of Education

Sharon Lust School of Education Dedication

Media Inquiries: Contact Jill Wilson, public relations and communications strategist.

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