Photo by Duane Tinkey
Photo by Duane Tinkey

Jacquie Easley's parents came here looking for opportunity -- Virginia Tech wouldn't admit her father as a student, although he qualified academically, but Iowa State University would. So they drove across the country, her mother pregnant with Jacquie and crying all the way.

Twenty-eight years later, when family responsibilities called her parents back East, "my mom cried all the way back," Easley said. Iowa had turned into their home.

By then, Easley's father had become the first full-time African-American professor at Drake University, and his daughter would find plenty of opportunities here, too.

She has served on the boards of the Des Moines Independent Community School District, Mercantile Bank (now U.S. Bank), the Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority (now Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority), Drake University, YWCA of Greater Des Moines, United Way of Central Iowa and Willkie House, among others.

She is a trustee of the Watson Powell Jr. Foundation and the Cowles Foundation. She's the president of I'll Make Me a World in Iowa.

Her honors include YWCA Woman of Achievement, the Judge Luther Glanton Award for Outstanding Public Service and the Junior League of Greater Des Moines' "Outstanding Community Member" award.

Easley's original plan to become a lawyer in Atlanta may have fallen through, but her life in Des Moines has worked out wonderfully.

"Everybody has a different way to contribute," said Easley, 51. "I felt if I didn't give back to the community, I really wouldn't be a success."

She started getting involved at a tender age, working on Des Moines attorney Nolden Gentry's successful school board campaign when she was 13 years old. While attending Roosevelt High School, Easley job-shadowed attorney Alfredo Parrish and a couple of judges at the Polk County Courthouse and took an interest in the law.

After graduating from Carleton College in Minnesota, she landed a corporate human resources job. She says now, "I realized I could effect the same kind of change there that I was hoping to make in the legal area."

For the past four years, Easley has served as the director of diversity services for Mercy Medical Center. She also was recently appointed to the national board of the American Heart Association. "I'm in health care at the right time to effect change," she said.

She left the school board in 2000, but remains interested and involved in education. She served on the Des Moines Schools Graduation Study Committee, which studied the district's dropout problem for four months and presented a report to Superintendent Nancy Sebring.

Easley is married to Polk County District Judge Odell McGhee. They have two children: Daughter Carey is 21 and attends school in Mississippi; son Ty is 13.

Last year's political season put her family in touch with what's now the nation's first family; Easley hosted a reception for Michelle Obama early in the campaign and received a thank-you call from the first lady a week after the election. Easley and her family flew to Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration.

Her brothers and in-laws live in the East and South, and can't understand why Iowa gets so much attention every four years during caucus season. "I tell them it's the reason my parents stayed here," she said. "It's the open-minded, reflective way Iowans look at things.

"They're willing to give people an opportunity to prove themselves and grow."