A Life Remembered: Marianne Dickerson

A Life Remembered: Marianne Dickerson

ST. JOSEPH ­— Marianne Dickerson described herself as average.

She was anything but.

Dickerson, an IHSA state champion at St. Joseph-Ogden, an Illinois track star, a graduate from Harvard Business School and a member of her high school’s Hall of Fame, died Wednesday night at the age of 54.

A state champion

Dickerson was the first individual state champion SJ-O ever had when she won the 800-yard run at the 1978 state track meet.  

Her time of 2 minutes, 16.4 seconds still stands as the school record.

“Just recently in the gym the record boards came down, but until then one of the most impressive parts of that board was Marianne’s 800 placard,” SJ-O cross-country coach Jason Retz said. “It was dusty, yellowed and old. That was the best part.”

Retz said Dickerson and her accomplishments were inspirational to SJ-O athletes.

“All the great athletes we have had run for us, no one could break that record,” he said. “I have had several girls tell me how awesome it would be to beat it, but they didn’t think it was possible.”

Dickerson won a total of four state medals in track, including a second-place finish in the mile while at SJ-O.

Accomplishments didn’t stop

Dickerson went on to attend Illinois, where she received a bachelor’s degree in general engineering and a master’s degree in industrial and operations engineering.

Her athletic accomplishments also continued. While at Illinois, she ran track and cross-country and was a two-time All-American in both sports.

Dickerson placed sixth in the 1981 NCAA meet and was named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year in 1983. She also holds Illinois’ outdoor record in the 10,000 meters with a time of 34:39.0 and holds several other spots on the school’s top-10 list in various events. She was a member of the 1983 United States track and field team and silver medalist at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, Finland.

“We are very sad to hear of Marianne’s passing,” Illinois women’s track and field coach Ron Garner said. “She was one of the greatest Illinois women’s track athletes of all time and set the standard for distance athletes that came after her.”

‘I was an average person’

In 2013, Dickerson was the featured speaker at the St. Joseph-Ogden High School academic awards assembly.

She made a point of telling students they could accomplish any of the things she did.

“I was an average person,” Dickerson told students two years ago during the assembly. “Any of you can do the things I did.”

Retz said that was a message Dickerson continued as she joined the SJ-O track and field team as an assistant girls’ coach for the 2015 season this past spring.

“Marianne would tell her old running stories not as a way to brag or celebrate herself, but as a way of saying, ‘If you work your butt off, this could be you,’ ” he said.

Dickerson told students that academics didn’t always come easy for her. Neither did athletics. In seventh grade she could not make the girls’ track team.

“Later I was the best runner in the state, the country and the world,” she said during the assembly.

Big dreams

Dickerson told SJ-O students two years ago that she had big dreams and set big goals for herself.

These goals included getting straight A’s, going to the state meet and going to a Big Ten university. Later they included getting her master’s degree and getting on the U.S. track team.

“There are no shortcuts in life,” she told students. “It’s all about hard work.”

While at Illinois, Dickerson told her coach she was going to compete in a marathon. Dickerson recalled her coach saying that she would never make it, so she began to train on her own.

She made it.

Her time in the marathon qualified her for the U.S. Championships.

She placed second in that race and qualified for a spot on the U.S. team at the 1983 World Championships.

“The story is legendary,” she told students in 2013. “I was in fourth place with 2 miles to go. I ended up winning the silver medal.”

Dickerson described the event as life-changing.

“It was a feeling of working that hard and achieving something incredible,” she said.

Former SJ-O track and field athlete Rachel Mullen said Dickerson pushed her to be the best she could be during her senior season.

“She was an amazing, enthusiastic person and coach,” Mullen said.

Retz said team members loved having a world-class athlete work with them last spring.

“Her enthusiasm and love of the sport was obvious from Day 1,” he said.

“You could hear her yelling at them at meets and at practice from the other side of the track,” he said. “She’ll be missed by many but will always have a special place in the heart of the athletes she coached.”