Schwenke used Nebraska football as networking tool
When Diane Schwenke was a child, her mother told her she needed to learn how to make a living someday, in case her husband died.
Decades later, Schwenke happily says her husband is alive and well, and she has carved out a lifetime of jobs that have meant more to her than a paycheck. She became Grand Junction’s first female president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce in 1989 after spending four years with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, a brief stint as an economic developer in Greeley, and four and a half years with the Beatrice, Neb., Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.
Before that, Schwenke had two choices for her first post-college job. She could use her new degree in elementary education to teach at a one-room schoolhouse with seven grades and 12 students. Or she could work for the Nebraska Department of Roads, which would receive federal dollars for hiring a woman to its male-dominated administration. She chose the latter.
Schwenke said she never felt judged by men while working for the department of roads, but she made an effort to fit in.
“I studied up on Nebraska football to talk to construction workers, but that was more of a networking thing” than an attempt to overcome discrimination, she said.
Networking with male business owners in Grand Junction never posed a problem, Schwenke added.
“If you were willing to go 50 percent of the way, men in business were willing to go the rest of the way,” she said.
Raising two children can be a challenge when both parents work, but Schwenke said her husband, Bruce, always has been willing to share household duties, which made it easier. He even moved where she got jobs in the 1980s, something she said was rare then.
“He was very understanding and didn’t let his ego get in the way,” she said.
Schwenke learned about equal partnerships from her parents, farmers who raised her in Algona, Iowa.
“When it was time to sell crops, it was a joint decision,” she said.
The decision to hire a candidate for a high-ranking position has less to do with gender than it did decades ago, Schwenke said.
“Now you’re being judged on what you can do,” she said.