Some time last year, when I was going to use a couple of quotes from Dusty Park for a story, I checked with him to make sure he was still president of the Junior Trojans Soccer Club, purely for identification purposes.
As usual, he got back to me quickly. “Yes, but that’s not important,” was his response.
Maybe it wasn’t important to him, but it sure was to a lot of other people. Dusty wasn’t just the guy who taught soccer to dozens of Pahrump kids; to many, he was soccer in Pahrump. And Dusty wasn’t just the guy who built up mini dwarf racing for kids at Pahrump Valley Speedway; to many, he was mini dwarf racing. He was that kind of person.
We lost Dusty on Monday, after he spent the last two weeks of his life at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Las Vegas. He leaves behind his wife, Amber, and three children: Koreylyn, 19; Khylarann, 13; and Kohlzin 12; and a new grandchild, Jocelyn Renee Martin, who was born in early August to Koreylyn and Anthony Martin.
“He started getting sick the very beginning of 2019, and he continued to coach and do the racing and everything,” Amber remembered. “He started doing indoor soccer in the summer. Even though he didn’t feel very good, you wouldn’t know. Even living with him, I didn’t always know he didn’t feel good.”
Surgery in March removed his right kidney and the cancer. But Dusty also suffered from cirrhosis, a scarring of the liver that, while usually associated with heavy drinking, actually can be caused by anything from hepatitis to alcoholism and a host of other conditions.
“We haven’t had the actual cause of death yet, because when he was in the hospital he suffered a cardiac arrest,” Amber said. “It was nine or 10 months before they found out he had the kidney cancer. We had that taken care of and thought we were on a better road. We knew he had the liver cirrhosis, but we thought he had plenty of time in the future to worry about a transplant.”
So Dusty, who could show kids how to overcome a deficit on a soccer field or bounce back from a bad night at the track, simply had too many things to overcome.
Life can be cruel, and there is no better evidence than seeing someone as loved and respected as Dusty Park taken before he even reached 40 years old.
But he touched a lot of people during those years. Allan McClard, who went to Pahrump Valley High School with Dusty, graduating one year earlier, was the best man at Dusty and Amber’s wedding. His son Booey is close with Park’s son Kohlzin, and he knows as well as anyone the impact Dusty had on kids in his adopted hometown.
“Since he got sick, and even the day that he passed, I know a lot of the young kids are talking to their dads and they’re absolutely heartbroken,” McClard said. “Dusty was the kind of coach where it was all business when he was out there, but afterward he would invite everybody over to the house and they would have pool parties and things for the kids. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
“I think because he loved kids so much, they could feel that type of thing,” Amber said. “They always felt he was genuine, and he talked to them like friends. He didn’t talk to them like they were kids.”
Being able to talk to kids that way while still having their respect can be a fine line, but Dusty walked it effortlessly. When he talked to players on the sideline of a soccer game or at a practice, those kids paid attention. But it was more like a conversation than an old-school “do this because I said so” kind of thing.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Kohlzin Park almost as often as I spoke with Dusty, and he is the rare 12-year-old (younger when I first met him) who is comfortable speaking with an adult sticking a recording device in his face. Whether it was soccer practice, the speedway or at an indoor soccer venue in Las Vegas, Kohlzin had ready answers.
“Kohlzin and Dusty were inseparable,” McClard said. “He was his shadow. If Dusty was out in the garage wrenching on something, Kohlzin had to have a wrench in his hands.”
Dusty had so much to do with mini dwarf racing at Pahrump Valley Speedway. Talking to the kids before the race is a blast, but a lot of them would not have been there if it wasn’t for Dusty, who built several of the cars.
“He put a lot of time into soccer, but then you have the little kids’ mini dwarfs, the racing,” McClard said. “He spent a lot of time building up that mini dwarf class. There were a lot of kids driving in that, and that was because Dusty was running it.”
“He had always been involved in the races up there, and he organized the Mini Dwarf Racing Association down there with the kids,” said Scotty Slatter, who went from seventh grade through graduation with Dusty and now lives in Fernley. “We had talked about that for a while because I ran a similar type of class up here in Northern Nevada for the kids up here.
“He was just super community-involved and wanted to make sure that every kid had a chance and no one was left out.”
But soccer was his first love, and that love began early.
“His dad, when they were little, he coached all of them, him and his two brothers, and he also coached Dusty’s mom in an over-40 league in Phoenix,” Amber said. “When they moved to Pahrump, they both started coaching out here and were part of the group that first started AYSO out here.”
That’s the American Youth Soccer Association, the oldest national youth soccer program in the United States.
“She coached the high school soccer team for a couple of years, and before she passed away she also coached our kids. Dusty coached Kohlzin’s team, and she coached Khylar’s team. She wanted to be with the kids out there, and she really loved coaching the kids.”
Dusty clearly inherited that trait and took it to another level.
“He really got into doing stuff with the kids and started to see that Pahrump had a lot of potential but didn’t offer too much,” Slatter said. “So he went out and got soccer fields done for the kids, lighting done, made the soccer teams bigger and better for the town.”
The next step was to elevate the level of play for kids who showed talent, and the Junior Trojans Soccer Club was born. Dusty had a vision for soccer in Pahrump that included a soccer park and club teams competitive enough that no players would have to travel to Las Vegas to play at a high level.
But that vision comes with a cost, not that Dusty would let that get in the way of a kid getting involved.
“Club soccer is different than AYSO, it’s not $50 and you get a cheap T-shirt,” McClard said. “I used to talk to him all the time about that. Everybody had personalized jerseys and backpacks that matched the jerseys. Just to sign up it would cost $300. But that was Dusty.
“There would be families that couldn’t afford to pay for soccer, and Dusty would pay for it out of his own pocket just to make sure people had the chance to play. He would be broke because he’s paying for everybody, but it didn’t bother him. He didn’t expect anyone to pay him back. Without a question. He did that all the time.”
But there was more. With Dusty, there always was more.
“And he would drive these kids back and forth to Vegas. He would take them out to eat after the tournament, pay for their meal, bring them back to Pahrump and do it all again the next day. He would try to have some sort of fundraising to help with those costs, but it didn’t always work.”
Amber remembers Dusty going around town to raise money so more kids could play.
“If they needed more help, he would talk to some of his business friends and see if they would be willing to sponsor the kid,” she recalled. “If it was smaller stuff, maybe like a tournament fee or something like that, he would usually take care of it.
“At the very beginning of the club stuff, he definitely put a lot of our own money into things like buying equipment, because he wanted to make sure he had what he needed to help them,” Amber said. “He would talk to two or three different people to get help for them. There were several times with teams he coached, there were kids who couldn’t make it all the time to Vegas, and we would take them with us.”
And then, although many people didn’t know at first, it was Dusty who could use a hand. And that bugged the hell out of him.
“People were wanting to do things for him and help him out for a change, and he had a really hard time with that because that wasn’t who he was,” Amber said. “He was the one always doing the helping. Even toward the end, he was always about making sure other people were happy.”
Dusty went into the hospital Aug. 17, and at least once he was close to being sent home.
“He was being treated for electrolyte issues and on the verge of being sent home, and then Sunday night he started having small issues, nothing major,” Amber recalled. “Then Monday morning I talked to him and he told me he did not feel well at all. A couple of hours later I got the phone call saying he had suffered a cardiac arrest and he was on a ventilator.”
Amber kept their many friends updated on Dusty’s condition through Facebook, sometimes to report a sign of hope, sometimes to report bad news such as brain swelling. It was on Facebook that Anthony Martin, the proud father of their new granddaughter, threw out an idea.
“Know what would be amazing?” Martin wrote Aug. 26. “You know like the movies where a HUGE group of people stand outside the hospital, giving the person hope by letting the person know we all care enough to stand outside and be there with them … Now that would be amazing.”
The idea took off, and just two nights later it became a reality, catching the attention of a Las Vegas TV station and everyone who works at Southern Hills.
“A lot of people came from Pahrump just to go outside his window,” McClard said. “When we went there Friday, the newest was he opened his eyes, and that gave us a little bit of hope. Amber was in there telling him we were out there. We got in a circle and joined hands and said a prayer for Dusty, and she had us on speaker phone.”
“I stayed in the room and his dad had gone down to see everybody that showed up,” Amber said. “From inside the room it was an overwhelming feeling, seeing all of these people showing up one after another. I knew a lot of people were coming, but seeing it happen was a very emotional thing.
“There were nurses coming in looking out the window and saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’”
Amber said the hospital’s facilities director told her the event touched everybody in the hospital. That seems only fair after the way Dusty touched so many people while he was with us. In a way, Amber saw the gathering as evidence that all of the time, effort and money her husband put into Pahrump’s youth was being recognized.
“That was beyond anything I could have imagined happening,” she said. “Over the years, people would ask why do you help so many people? Giving everything away? Just quit. But to him, it was if I can help them, I help them. As I watched that it was an awesome feeling of being rewarded for being the person he was.”
Amber said the person everybody else saw on the sidelines, at the speedway or anywhere else was the same guy who went home every night. He was genuine, and people responded to that.
“Dusty was somebody who was a very good listener,” McClard said. “He was good at giving advice. He was just a good person to talk to. As far back as I can remember, Dusty’s always been such a good person.”
McClard was in a good position to know. Not only were the two men friends for decades, they worked together at three places, most recently at Valley Electric Association, where Dusty was a maintenance supervisor.
“We worked at Pulte Homes 15 years ago doing layout,” McClard remembered. “I left to come back to Pahrump, and he hired me at U.S. Ecology and I worked out there for a few years, then I ended up leaving to go to Valley Electric. He joked that he would never hire me again because I kept leaving him.”
Of course, kids have to leave. They get older, and other kids take their place. But Amber said Dusty enjoyed working with the younger ones.
“Dusty’s biggest thing was the 4-6-year-old range,” she said. “That was his favorite age group to coach. I thought he was insane. It’s just amazing to watch the coaching. When they first started it was a big cluster of kids around a little ball, and by the end of the six weeks almost all the kids knew to stay in position.
“It was kind of crazy to watch, to take that age group and teach them with the right guidance.”
Dusty wasn’t just a good guy, he knew how to show people the right away. And that doesn’t just go for kindergarten kids on a soccer field. Consider what Martin, the proud father of little Jocelyn, had to say about her grandfather in a Facebook post:
“Thank you for being a father figure to me … you stepped in and was always there to help Korey and me when we needed it. You were always there for your kids even when you were suffering in pain. You will never be forgotten in our lives, and Jocelyn will grow up to know that you would have done so much for her…
“I promise to protect your family through all things. I promise to wipe the tears away from your children’s eyes when they shed because you raised them to be strong inside and out. You taught them to never let life knock them down even when life is hard. So for that, I will do all I can to fulfill those promises.”
As the uncle of four kids who never knew their grandfather, I get that. The good thing is you can almost hear the love in their voices when Jocelyn’s parents tell her about their grandfather and what a great guy he is.
But there’s more. Two days after Dusty left us, Martin was still looking to him.
From Facebook: “I don’t understand why this hurts me so much today. Maybe it’s because you were leading me in a direction that I truly wanted to go. You were pushing me to finish my race car. You were pushing me to learn new things about life. It doesn’t feel real, and I don’t understand why life is this way. Please guide me through the day.”
And somehow, Dusty will find a way to do that. His presence was too strong, his demeanor too positive, his soul too generous to be forgotten quickly. Personally, I’ll think of him as I watch his kids continue to play the sport the family loves, and someday I’ll be watching a Junior Trojans game on a field at a complex named after him.
Every town needs a Dusty Park. But Pahrump was fortunate enough to have the real thing.
What they’re saying
Dusty Park’s many friends took to Facebook to express their thoughts after his death Monday:
Just had a conversation with my daughter, and it put Dusty Park into perspective for me. Always had a love for the guy. God he was an amazing person. She told me when she plays for the US soccer team she will let everyone know he is the reason she loves and works hard on soccer. Dusty, you gave my little ones a reason to work hard. I will always appreciate you.
— André Kent
I remember watching his brother play soccer, playing soccer with and against Dusty, playing for his mom, and playing high school soccer with him. Later, coming back full circle to coach our kids. … You dont get that many opportunities in a lifetime to meet a person like Dusty, someone who legitimately puts his family, friends and the youth of the town, first.
— Danny Coleman
Dusty Park was an incredible person. Always there to lend a hand to help, loved working with kids, and was a great family man himself. … He would do anything for anybody and always made sure that there wasn’t anyone left out, the guy just flat out had a heart of gold!
— Scotty Slater
You were such an amazing soul and a true friend to everyone. You helped every single person you came into contact with that needed a helping hand. I’m so privileged to have known you for so long and had you as a friend.
— Bobbi-lee Ward
For the last five years you have taken my clumsy little man and taught him to become confident and dare we say somehow coordinated with his movements. You took a group of kids and made them strong and resilient to many obstacles they come to face. You taught them to work with others when both on and off the field.
— Vicki Fair