(Almost) Famous Locals: Diane Stevens

Joseph O'Brien, photos by Dahli Durley

Diane Stevens has met a king and a president’s father, surfed big waves in Hawaii, and taught big ideas at Winona’s public schools and Winona State University. She’s even helped bring the Dalai Lama and Shakespeare to the Upper Midwest.

You could call Stevens eclectic—but that’s only half her story. You could also call her electric with an enthusiasm for life—and that’s the other half. Stevens, with the support of her husband Ron Stevens and inspired by her friends and mentors, including the late Maggie Jacqmin and Jacqmin’s husband Will Kitchen (founders of Winona’s Theatre du Mississippi and its two tributaries–the Frozen River Film Festival (FRFF) and the Great River Shakespeare Festival in Winona) has volunteered for just about everything there is to volunteer for in Winona over the last 18 years.          

During that time she also helped FRFF screen American director Khashyar Darvich’s award-winning 2007 film (narrated by Harrison Ford) “Dalai Lama Renaissance.” She says it’s all a matter of “getting out and doing things,” earning a chance to engage the world—and engage she does. After graduating college, she studied international relations at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, and her classmate was Barack Obama, Sr.              

It was during this time, while snorkeling in Hanauma Bay on O’ahu, that she met The King, Elvis Presley, who visited the Islands to shoot his 1961 flick “Blue Hawaii.”      

“That was back in the day when people generally talked to each other and there were not groups of people keeping you away from everybody,” Stevens says. “So Elvis talked to me and wanted to know what I was doing in Hawaii, and we talked about things and then he got on with his people and did the filming.”          

Due to recent health concerns, Stevens is throttling back and, playing against type, letting the world come to her for a spell. “I’m taking a break and…doing some meditation and reading time on the river. I’m doing some knitting and listening to the birds and writing to people who need cheering up. I’m spending time in a more introspective way rather than racing around all the time and doing everything,” reflects Stevens. “I’m going to take a break from eclecticism and be romantic. I think that’s what I want—or quiet anyway.”  

Joseph O'Brien  author

Joseph O'Brien lives with his wife Cecilia and their nine children on their Soldiers Grove farmstead. He is staff writer and poetry editor of the San Diego Reader, and contributed regularly to the late great Kickapoo Free Press.