Lydia Hornung is many things. A former Division 1 collegiate athlete, past chairman of the board for the Ankeny Chamber of Commerce, Communications, Strategy, and Tour Services Manager for John Deere Des Moines Works, 2019 Business Record Forty Under 40 recipient, mother to two amazing girls and much more. Hornung is also an Iowa transplant who never dreamed of staying when she arrived from the Chicagoland area nearly two decades ago. But she did and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Can you describe your journey from the suburbs of Chicago to central Iowa?
I grew up in Homer Glen, Illinois where I swam competitively all through grade school, junior high and high school. I knew that I was at a caliber to swim at an NCAA Division 1 college and to be honest, had my eyes on schools in the South Eastern Conference — specifically Louisiana State University (LSU). Well, I verbally committed to LSU and at the last minute, the Iowa State swim coach called me and said, “just come out this weekend, we’d love to talk to you.” I figured I had nothing to lose and headed to Ames with my mom, which was probably my first mistake since it was the only recruiting trip I took her on! During the visit she kept telling me, “you know, if you go here, we’ll be able to come to more of your swim meets.” LSU never stood a chance and after the guilt trip from her, I decided to be a Cyclone.
What stood out to you about Iowa State University?
I felt like I was at home in Ames and a lot of that had to do with the gals on the swim team. Also, I go back to memories of walking on campus and the changing of the leaves. There is so much beauty in Ames. I always felt like no matter what I wanted to do, there was a club or activity available at Iowa State. There were numerous ways to get involved and not be just another face in the crowd.
What has kept you at John Deere for more than a decade?
I’ll be honest, I had all the intention of coming back to Chicago after graduation. But I never did. Instead, I took a marketing and promotions job at small company in Des Moines that sold competitive swimwear. After about a year, I came across a job at John Deere Financial in customer service and this coming February I’ll have been with the company for 13 years — which is crazy! During that time, I’ve moved from customer service, to HR to various communication roles with increasing responsibility and then to my current position of Communications and Tour Services Manager. That is one of the things that makes John Deere so great — there are so many opportunities here and if you don’t like the function you started, you can be like me and go in a different way.
Also, since 2010 I’ve been in a factory setting and absolutely love it! There is something about walking into a factory and seeing raw steel get turned into a full machine — everything from fabricating and painting to assembly and welding. I’m also a sucker for our higher purpose of feeding, clothing and sheltering people around the world. There’s something inside of me that realizes we’re helping people at John Deere. It may sound corny, but it’s true!
What is it like as a female working in advanced manufacturing?
John Deere really values an inclusive work environment where people from all over the world can come in and have a successful career — regardless of race or gender. I see a lot of women in leadership, for example, my boss, who is the factory manager, is a female who grew up outside of St. Louis. It’s a great environment, wonderful culture and one where I feel like I can accomplish my career objectives and not have to leave to do it.
Another thing I love is that we have many resource groups where you can connect with people that have similar backgrounds and upbringings, so it doesn’t feel like “work.” Which is why my closest friends are people that work with me here. They’re my friends at work, and they’re my friends outside the office. I think that is special.
You have two young daughters. What are the advantages to raising a family in central Iowa?
I have to give a shout out to Ankeny, where we live. It has one of the best school districts in the state. There are countless activities for families here in Ankeny and Central Iowa, regardless of the season. The growth of Central Iowa, which is a credit to the Greater Des Moines Partnership for what they are doing to bring in big companies, makes it feel like this isn’t just some small town. We have arts and entertainment, great bike trails, plenty of shops and an airport — all without the big city hassles like traffic! It’s just a great place to live.
You say you consider yourself an Iowan now. What made you embrace and that title?
An unfortunate part of my story is that I was widowed just over three years ago. Most of my family is in Chicago and my parents are full-time retired in Florida. Although I have some of my late husbands’ family here, I had a tough decision to make — go back to Illinois or stay. It would have been easier for me to return to Chicago and let my family help raise my kids. But I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to give up on everything that I had built here, the friendships and career.
The support I have received over the past three years shows how giving and genuine people in Iowa are. From food beyond what anyone could eat and people checking on me and the girls, to the gift cards to restaurants, movie theatres, the science center — people just going completely out of their way to make sure you’re okay. All of it was unbelievable. And one thing that really took me by surprise was the outpouring of support from the John Deere family. Regardless of their title or job, it didn’t matter. When people found out I lost my husband, they were unbelievable. Words could never express how grateful I am.
You know, I never thought that I would succeed in my career the way I have. I never thought that I would be a Forty Under 40, and people seem to be inspired by that. And that is something that drives me — to serve as an inspiration to others and my girls that I’m still doing all these things, even as a single mom. Yes, with a lot of help from daycare and from friends helping me raise them, but I am still here and that is why I stayed. It’s the community and the people here in Central Iowa. It didn’t turn out as planned, but we are in a great city able to do all the things we want to do. We have a great life here.