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Hieber, J. Elaine

Published onJul 30, 2021
Hieber, J. Elaine

(August 23, 1945 -)

Quick Facts

J. Elaine Hieber is a women’s rights advocate and, as a university administrator in athletics, worked diligently to improve opportunities for and the status of women in athletics.

Courtesy: Athletics Communications
J. Elaine Hieber - Hall of Fame Class of 2008

J. Elaine Hieber grew up in Fort Thomas, KY, the second of three children of John Henry and Veronica (Niehaus) Hieber. Though she had a congenital back defect that resulted in extensive surgery, she ignored her less than rosy prognosis and majored in physical education at Indiana University, receiving a BS in 1969 and an MS in 1971. Following graduation, she took a position as a teacher and coach at Indian Hills Exempted Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

The passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendment Act of 1972 requiring institutions to treat men’s and women’s athletic programs equally served as the springboard for Hieber’s career as a university athletic administrator. Many institutions felt compelled to hire a female to manage women’s sports, and she was named in 1974 as Assistant Director of Athletics at Miami University in Ohio. That position turned out to be a challenge, as Title IX was often perceived as a threat to men’s programs and met with resentment. The program had an operating budget of $17,500 for 12 sports, no full-time staff positions or coaches, and no access to the facilities used by the men’s teams. She coached five of the sports herself, packed lunches for and drove the van to away games, and washed the uniforms. Young, feminine, diminutive in stature and pleasant, colleagues from that period believe that the Athletic Department was not expecting that they had hired someone so determined to improve the status of female athletes. However, in her quiet, persistent way, she made a huge difference. Five years later the program’s budget was over $500,000 with nine full time staff, and full access to facilities. Considered a miracle worker by those her saw her operate, she was inducted into Miami University Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Miami Cradle of Coaches in 2010. 

In 1979, Iowa State University recruited Hieber to assist with the merger of the men and women’s athletic programs. Welcoming the opportunity to work with both women and men’s teams and believing she could significantly improve the status of, and opportunities for women, she accepted the position as Assistant Athletics Director.  She again found herself the token women in a male-dominated department with limited support for women’s teams. Again, she faced hostility by those who believed that supporting women athletics would negatively affect men’s programs   Again, she quietly and very persistently addressed inequitable situations and was successful in improving the treatment and support of female athletes, male athletes in Olympic sports, and the staff and coaches working with those programs. She became a Senior Associate Athletics Director in 1993 and assumed responsibility for the internal operations of the department. She was named interim Athletics Director in 2000.  Hieber’s commitment was recognized in 2008 when she was inducted into the ISU Hall of Fame.

Active at the national level, Hieber served on the Division I Women’s Basketball Committee, the NCAA Marketing Committee, several NCAA peer review accreditation teams, as chair of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules Committee, and the executive board of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics. She received an Administrator of the Year Award in 2001 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators.

Her pursuit of fair treatment for all students and staff was not limited to the Athletic Department. She served on the ISU University Committee on Women for five years, including two as chair, was a member of the Women’s Center Advisory Council, the University Diversity Project Steering Committee, and chaired the Professional and Scientific Council. Admired for her style of interaction, effectiveness, and advocacy of those in powerless positions, she received the following awards: P & S Excellence (1989), ISU Women’s Center Gender Equity (1990), ISU Presidential Service (2001), YWCA Woman of Achievement (2002), and Woman of Impact by the Carrie Chapman Catt Associates (2008).  In recognition of her contributions to ISU, she received an Honorary Alumni Award in 2015. 

As the ISU liaison for the Special Olympics Iowa Summer Game for nearly three decades, Hieber was a strong advocate for providing quality sport participation opportunities for Special Olympic athletes.  Active at both the state and national levels, she received the Iowa Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year Award (1988), the Ed Lehner Award for Outstanding Service (1993), and the Governor’s Volunteer of the Year award (1994).   In 2006, she served as Chairperson of the Special Olympics USA National Games.  These games, the first national games held in the United States, were extremely successful and her efforts were recognized in an editorial in the Tribune in 2006.

Elaine Hieber truly deserves the community’s thanks for delivering a world-class Special Olympics USA National Games. Hieber has given Ames and Special Olympics three solid years of volunteer time.  We owe our congratulations and thanks to Elaine Hieber for leading this overwhelmingly successful first Special Olympics US National Games. [1]

Hieber retired from ISU in 2002 in protest over the athletic director’s lack of support for diversity, gender equity and men’s Olympic sports. After retirement, she remained as a member and advocate for women on the Athletic Hall of Fame Committee and contributed to the Ames community as co-chair of the Healthiest Ames initiative. She also remained on the Special Olympics Iowa Board until 2016. She was named as one of the Ames Tribune’s “Unsung Heroes” in 2007 and was honored for her contributions by the Ames Convention and Visitor Bureau in 2012. 

Beginning in 2011, an award in her honor, J. Elaine Hieber Leadership Award, is given to an Iowa State female athletics staff member for their valuable contributions to the department and to pursue enrichment opportunities in collegiate athletics.

Selected Sources

These include the ISU News Service, ISU Daily, Ames Tribune, and Des Moines Register.

Cyclone Hall of Fame, ISU Athletics, online.

Further documentation may be found in Hieber’s personal papers held in the University Archives, Special Collection Department of the ISU Library.

About the Author

Shirley J. Wood, Former Department of Kinesiology chair and former interim dean of the College of Education.

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