Former Iowa Rep. Joan Hester’s daughter will miss her mom’s energy, honesty and influence on the family.
Hester, of Honey Creek, died at the age of 86 on Tuesday, a day before her birthday. She served in Iowa’s General Assembly from 1985 until retiring at the end of 1994, spending her time in office alongside her husband Jack, who served as a state senator for 16 years.
“Mom was a smart woman, very intelligent. A very independent woman,” said her daughter Denise Baker, who now lives in Plano, Texas. “She was very proud and received a lot of satisfaction in being involved in making changes in government. She was very proud of that, what she was able to accomplish. And being able to do it alongside Dad.”
Hester ran in 1984 in the Republican primary against incumbent Rep. LaVerne Schroeder of McClelland. She told the Nonpareil in 1994 she ran because Schroeder had moved out of the district but maintained a mailing address there to keep his House seat.
“That was the only reason I ran,” Hester said. “A mailbox isn’t enough. You need to be in the area.”
Hester said, “the party hierarchy was very unhappy. They lobbied hard for me not to run.”
Per the Nonpareil’s story at the time, Statehouse veterans told the couple that having a husband and wife team in the Legislature just wouldn’t work, Hester said.
Voters had other thoughts, and Hester won in 1984 and in another four elections.
Joan Hester represented the 82nd District, which included Harrison and northern Pottawattamie County, including part of Council Bluffs. Her husband represented the 41st District, which included Audubon, Shelby and Harrison Counties and a portion of Pottawattamie County. Iowa has since redistricted the state.
Baker said it’s believed they’re the only couple to serve concurrently in Iowa. Her mother was proud of that, noting there was a couple that served in Kansas — but the couple divorced during their service.
“Mom enjoyed the challenge of the conflicts that were involved and working through them with her colleagues. She loved a good challenge, of the two parties working on opposite sides and being able to bring them together to accomplish something,” Baker said. “She wasn’t afraid of opposition. She took a great deal of satisfaction in being able to make something happen, despite the disagreements on issues.”
Both Hesters retired at the end of the 1994 legislative session. Jack Hester died in 1999.
The couple farmed for decades after returning to Iowa following Jack Hester’s military service. The pair had six children.
“She lived the hardscrabble life of being a young farm wife,” Baker said.
“Joan Hester served as Jack Hester’s secretary in Des Moines during his second term before running for office herself.
Joan Hester’s community involvement reached beyond her time in the Legislature. She was Gov. Terry Branstad’s appointee to the Fourth District Judicial Nominating Commission and served with the Mercy Hospital Guild Hospital Craft Room, Hazel Dell United Methodist Church Nightingale Guild and West Pottawattamie County Farm Bureau and was 4-H Leader of the West Pottawattamie County Youth Committee.
Hester was also superintendent of Home Economics Projects at Westfair and served on Tri-Center School Committees, with Iowa Pork Producers, the Live and Learn Extension Club, Republican Township Committee and held numerous positions in Republican politics.
Her obituary notes she was surrounded by her loving family while listening to the beautiful tenor voice of Jack Hester at the time of her death.
Baker noted that throughout her service she always kept family at the forefront of her life.
“She was so dedicated to the multi-generational family that remains. Certainly we’ll miss her involvement and her interest in staying involved in the generations. She was the hub of the wheel. The glue of the family,” Hester’s daughter said. “We’ll miss that influence.”