“I just try to do work that’s important, make the community just.”
Diana Hess’s leadership focus centers on her “innate sense of social and economic justice.” It is through that deeply held passion that she strives to create opportunities to make justice available to all members of the community. She identifies herself as a private person who likes to work in the background rather than taking the spotlight.
In reflecting on her life, Diana observed that her sense of social and economic justice took root while she was a child. She was “shaped by the 1960s” and the myriad changes happening throughout the country. Diana was a “huge fan” of Robert Kennedy and his work with advocating for civil rights for everyone. Diana’s commitment to justice was further shaped by the “things happening” with the Vietnam war. She remembers sitting in front of her family television for daily updates because “at that time [the war] wasn’t hidden from us like it is in this country now. Hearing that sound of copters, hearing the latest body count…it was a very real thing in your life.”
This confluence of factors: war images, Robert Kennedy, civil rights activism, multiple assassinations, all helped form Diana’s political foundation and worked to shape her into a leader for equal justice for all members of the community.
Diana’s introduction to the local political scene occurred while working the phone bank for the Indiana Democratic Party in 1988. It was also during this time that Diana became involved with the League of Women Voters and the Community Forum for Economic Justice (formerly the Community Forum for Economic Development). While serving as a member of the board of directors for the League, Diana also served as board president. She continues to serve on the board of directors for the Community Forum for Economic Justice.
Diana spent 20 years in Extended Learning Services at Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) where she worked in an all-female department, starting as a receptionist and eventually working her way up to program manager and developer. In the early 1990s, Diana became involved with a board that advised the City of South Bend on ways to improve properties in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. She continued to serve in this capacity until 2009, when it became apparent that the goals of the board were no longer feasible. Diana left her position at IUSB to focus on helping the board transition into an independent non-profit that is currently known as the Neighborhood Resources Connection (NRC). Diana continues to work to expand the scope of services offered by the NRC and has recently hired a second full-time employee.
Currently, Diana serves as a member of the Saint Joseph County Council. She “didn’t aspire to run for office” initially, thinking “it’s much more fun to agitate than govern.” However, once in office she found that she enjoys governing and puts into use “critical connections that build over time.” Diana believes that “due process is very important” and strives to ensure that everyone has access to it.
Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project
Diana was a 2018 CMWL honoree.