Pioneering UNI alum receives posthumous award for a lifetime of service

A University of Northern Iowa alumna and pioneering political figure in women’s and family rights was posthumously honored with the 2020 Women of Achievement Award, which will be commemorated with a plaque on the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge in Des Moines.  

An Iowa public servant and politician, Joy Cole Corning served as the 44th Lieutenant Governor of Iowa from 1991-1999 and during her time in politics spearheaded issues that celebrated diversity, protected women from violence and improved the lives of foster children. She died in 2017 at age 84.

Corning established the Joy Cole Corning Endowed Leadership Lecture Series at UNI in 1999, which has provided students and the larger Cedar Valley community with access to thought leaders from around the world. Past speakers the series has brought to UNI’s campus include Madeleine Albright, Sally Ride, the Dalai Lama, and Laura Bush.

The award will join a slate of other honors. Corning was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2009 she received the Interfaith Award from the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa in 2009 for her support of gay rights and in 2017 received the Edward S. Allan award, which recognizes Iowan who are long-time civil liberties heroes, from the ACLU of Iowa. 

“Joy Cole Corning represents everything that UNI strives to instill in our students” said UNI President Mark A. Nook. “Her commitment to social justice and fairness are a wonderful example to all of our students and graduates, and this award further highlights her status as an Iowa icon.”

Corning was born in 1937 in Creston, Iowa. After graduating in 1954 with a degree in kindergarten and primary education from the Iowa State Teachers College, now known as UNI, Corning served as a state senator representing what was then Senate District 12 in Black Hawk County. She also served as the president of the Cedar Falls School Board and worked as the director of the Iowa Housing Finance Authority from 1981 to 1984.

After being elected the Lt. Governor in 1990, Corning created and led the first statewide effort in Iowa to celebrate diversity by creating a successful campaign of tolerance through community forums, team-building activities, conferences and media appearances. Corning was also active in family issues, leading the Family Foster Care program, which increased the number of quality foster homes and dramatically raised the number of adoptions of special-needs children. Corning also chaired Iowa’s first STOP Violence Against Women Coordinating Council and the 75th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage.

Prior to being elected to Lieutenant Governor for two terms, Corning was the Republican Assistant Minority Leader for the Iowa Senate from 1985 to 1990. As a state senator, she served on the education, energy and environment committees. During her service, Corning helped pass bills outlawing physical abuse in schools and extending the statute of limitations on sexual abuse.

After leaving office, Corning remained active on various statewide issues. She served as co-chair of Justice Not Politics, a non-partisan organization that aims to protect Iowa’s fair and impartial courts by keeping money and politics out of the judicial system. She was also involved with the Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Foundation, Plymouth Church Foundation, the UNI Foundation and the Des Moines Symphony Foundation.

The 2020 Women of Achievement Awards were bestowed by Women Lead Change, a non-partisan non-profit dedicated to the advancement, development and promotion of women, their organizations and their impact on the economy and future workforce.