At Saturday’s neighborhoods conference the city will hand out its first Diana Conn Neighbor of the Year award to a community member who “in a spirit of cooperation and with commitment to inclusive community — has devoted time and talent in service to her or his neighbors and neighborhood,” David Massey wrote in an email.
Massey is the city’s neighborhoods coordinator – the fellow who you see in the neighborhood meetings, the interface between city administration and the people who live in Knoxville. He’s the person who helps neighborhoods with their unique community issues – things such as getting organized, or finding the right people to speak with in the city on various issues. You know, neighborhood stuff.
So here’s his story on Conn – a South Knoxville stalwart – after she died last year:
Diana Conn: Lover of Life and Community
There is a huge hole in the fabric of community life in South Knoxville: Diana Conn died Tuesday morning at the age of 77.
“Whenever you thought about South Knoxville, you thought of Diana Conn,” friend and colleague Whitney Stanley observed.
Diana was active in the Old Sevier Community Group. She served as moderator, called the phone list each month, delivered fliers and newsletters door to door, and visited with older members unable to attend the monthly meetings. She participated in numerous neighborhood conferences, locally and nationally.
Her blue pickup truck was a familiar sight at neighborhood cleanups, and the OSCG won beautification awards due in large part to her flower-planting efforts. An advocate for neighborhood crime watch, she was a graduate of KPD’s Citizens Police Academy.
When OSCG went through the “Transforming Neighborhoods Together” process several years ago, Diana gathered pictures, took surveys, set up meetings, gathered information, and put together the final Plan booklet. She was a strong advocate for home ownership.
Beyond her neighborhood, at different times and often at the same time, she was active in or served on the boards of Nine Counties One Vision, Center for Neighborhood Development, Council of Involved Neighborhoods, the KCDC Advisory Board for the South Waterfront project, and the Partnership for Neighborhood Improvement. A truly engaged citizen, she involved herself in the political process and was a stalwart member of the South of the River Democrats.
She was a key player in the Knoxville Knox County Community Action Committee’s South Neighborhood Advisory Board. At her death Diana was secretary of the full CAC board and also chair of the board of CAC’s housing unit, Community Action for Affordable Neighborhoods.
“She was one of our most cherished leaders,” stated CAC’s Barbara Kelly. “She was an intelligent person who possessed a great deal of common sense and insight into issues that affect low-income communities. She was both outspoken and fair. We will miss her forever.”
A graduate of Auburn University, Diana loved books, reading, and history. She supported the South Knoxville branch library, volunteered at South Knoxville Elementary School, and scored essays written by high school students on a variety of topics.
Farther afield, Diana helped create and maintain hiking trails in the national park, clearing debris with hand saws and cutters, always wearing her “bear bell” to warn the bears she was on the trail. Her love of outdoors also included canoeing, organic gardening, flowers and herbs.
“More than anything else, the thing I loved most about Diana was that she always had this incredible positive outlook,” Whitney Stanley said. “She never let anything get her down. She loved life.”
It is anticipated that a memorial service will be held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on September 22; details will be included in a forthcoming obituary. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to CAC’s Mobile Meals program.