Cornell is a touchstone in Landis’ Life

Who once coached against himself in a collegiate cross country meet?

The answer: Richard “Dick” Landis ’64. In fact, he did it twice, coaching both Cornell and Coe in 1978 and 1979.

“I was born to go to Cornell and I was born to be a Delt,” says Landis, who is retired and living in Big Sky, Montana. “My mother, Ruth, graduated from Cornell in 1927. My Dad, Russell, was here at the same time but didn’t graduate. Some of my earliest memories are of going to Cornell football games when I was a kid. I remember the Cornell national championship wrestling team of 1947 like it was yesterday.”

LandisRussell Landis ’26 coached at Iowa Falls, the hometown of Barron Bremner, the legendary Cornell and Coe coach, athletic director, and fundraiser. The two men became close.

Dick Landis, now 78, grew up in Cedar Rapids and came to Cornell after high school. After a year, he realized he wasn’t ready for college, so he joined the Army where he spent a two-year hitch, mostly in Texas. As his enlistment neared its end, he started looking at colleges in the Lone Star State. Then he talked to Bremner.

“Barron told me, ‘No, you’re not going to school in Texas. You’re coming back to Cornell.’ I just said, ‘yes, sir!’”

Military service interrupted Landis’ college days again in 1961 when the Berlin crisis erupted and his reserve unit was called to active duty. He returned to Cornell for the third and final time, earning a political science degree with a French minor and competing for the Ram track team.

He was working in a bank in Cedar Rapids when a call from Barron Bremner in 1968 changed his life once again.

“He asked me to be a volunteer coach with the Cornell track team, which I was happy to do. When he went to Coe, he asked me to go with him and be the cross country coach. Then Barron came back to Cornell and asked me to come with him again. I told him I was committed to Coe, and he said, ‘you can do both!’ That’s how I ended up coaching both teams in the Coe-Cornell meets.”

By 1980 Landis was busy growing a travel agency business and had to end his volunteer coaching career. He went on to found, grow, and sell several other businesses, most of them related to travel and tourism. Landis’ final business was a software and consulting firm that had customers around the world. “Right after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Czech Republic contacted us about helping them get their tourism industry going,” he says. “That was a great opportunity.”

In 1981 Bremner contacted Landis to discuss Russell Landis’ legacy. “He wanted to honor Dad. Over the next few months, we defined what we wanted to do, which was to create an award to be given to a Cornell athlete who was successful at athletics and academics, and who contributed to the community.”

In 1982 the first Russell W. Landis Award was presented. It remains the highest individual honor a Ram athlete can receive.

In 1999 Landis retired and moved to Montana, where one of his former business partners was living. He’s enjoyed the Big Sky State ever since. His routine in retirement would wear out most people 30 years younger. He’s in the gym at 5 a.m. for a 90-minute workout, after which he heads home to spend a few hours in his woodshop, or “man cave” as he calls it. In years past, he would have headed to the ski slopes, but time has slowed down even Dick Landis.

“I had a knee replacement a few years ago. I liked to ski but I LOVE to play golf, and I didn’t want to risk hurting my knee and missing golf season because of rehab,” he says.

In addition to his routine, Landis was a catalyst in building the Big Sky Chapel, a multi-
denominational house of worship. “Catholics meet Sunday at 8 a.m., a combination of the Episcopal and Lutheran congregations meets at 9:30 a.m., and the Christian Fellowship meets at 11 a.m,” he says. “We have a small Jewish congregation that meets a few times a year, mostly on holidays and on Friday nights.”

With his wife, Toini, Landis has committed the biggest part of his retirement to work in Kenya, so far making the 18-hour trip 40 times. Their first project was helping a woman build an orphanage to house the 60 children she had taken in. The orphanage housed 100; then they built a school that served 480. Next, they added a dairy farm and processing plant to make butter and cheese to support the enterprise, which is now self-sufficient. They’re currently building a high school and medical clinic with one of his former runners, a tribal elder. He and Toini created a foundation to support their efforts.

Internationalism comes naturally to the Landis family. Dick met Toini in her native Norway, where she was a guide on a tour bus. She holds a degree from the University of Oslo and another from Coe, where she earned her teaching certificate. Daughter Kristin is a lawyer with the Department of Homeland Security. Son Erik is a history professor at Oxford-Brookes University in England. Dick and Toini have four grandchildren. Within their family, says Landis, “Our objective is to reach farther than ourselves, if we can.