Sometimes the lessons we learn and the people we become are the results of negative, rather than positive, influences.
Born and raised in Winona, Minn., Palm Springs resident Kathy Diamond, 69, grew up in a household where her parents weren’t warm and fuzzy.
“My parents were role models of people I didn’t want to be,” Diamond says. Her mother was “cold and distant,” and seldom communicated positive expectations to Diamond and her older brother. Her father was “a very strict disciplinarian, an angry and bitter person.”
“At the age of 10,” says Diamond, “my mom told me that from then on, I’d be making the dinners. They provided room and board, but I had to buy my own clothing—so I learned to sew. I cleaned houses, baby-sat—anything I could do to earn money. I became very independent. My dad committed suicide when I was in my 40s, and after his death, I took care of mom for the next 11 years.
“There was one person who had a big positive influence in my life, and that was my dad’s sister, Aunt Eva. He had three sisters, and their dad had died when my father was only 5. His mother raised four kids on her own, without any help. Aunt Eva was strong, kind, fiercely intelligent—such a positive role model for me. It was hard to realize that she and my dad had been raised in the same household.”
Diamond’s parents told her she was on her own at 18.
“As a kid, I had always wanted to be a veterinarian,” she says. “I get really upset with people who don’t treat pets well—and I’d have made a good vet. But my dad said that I’d have to go to school for lots of years.”
She put herself through college and earned a degree in elementary and early childhood education from Winona State University.
“We all have dreams, and hindsight would have been good at that age,” she says.
As it turned out, Diamond never taught in a classroom. She had lots of student loans, and jobs were hard to come by, so she got a position at the University of Minnesota, coordinating a program in their Pediatrics Department.
“I loved it!” she says. “I especially loved being in an academic setting, where I could sit in on lectures and learn so much for free. The skills I had learned from my degree helped me communicate with others. I always consider how I can convey something to a person that they will understand.”
Diamond worked in that setting for 30 years, and later became a department administrator in internal medicine. She and her husband of 34 years had vacationed in Palm Springs many times, so it wasn’t a stretch for them to move here after she retired; that took place six years ago.
This brings us back to pets. They have one dog right now, Scarlett, and Diamond says they hope to get a second soon.
“I have a passion for dogs,” she says. “I was on the board of a dog-rescue organization, and then in 2007, friends and I started our own rescue service, Shih Tzu Rescue of Minnesota. I volunteered there several days a week, mentoring foster parents and interacting with the vets.
“Where I live now, at 7 a.m., all the neighbors with dogs walk together. We catch up on news, and it’s a chance to socialize and care about each other. It’s made a very cohesive neighborhood.”
Diamond has another passion: Volunteering to help and support people who are homeless.
“When we came to Palm Springs, I wanted something to do that would be productive and make a difference, and to positively affect someone else’s life. I searched online for volunteer opportunities and found Well in the Desert in Palm Springs. They needed help serving lunches, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I loved the people I was volunteering with and enjoyed meeting the people we serve.
“Given what I went through, I know what not having a safety net can mean—the feeling of everything falling out from under you. These are people who are not all about drugs or mental illness. They’ve had misfortune and spiraled down. It’s difficult to get out from under that.
“The numbers of people we see has gone way up due to COVID—(because of) lost jobs, evictions and people who have had to quit their jobs to take care of their kids. They’re here because they’re hungry. We’re here to treat them with dignity and respect. They’re grateful; it takes so little to make someone happy, to bring a smile to someone’s face. There’s a need for an understanding of the individuals and their situations, but sharing has to be on their terms. Often, they’re embarrassed. It takes only a little effort to be kind.”
In recognition of her work with Well in the Desert, Diamond recently received the Compassion Appreciation Award from Bloom in the Desert Ministries.
When I ask what makes Diamond cry, her response is consistent with the way in which she lives her life. “I don’t cry for myself. I cry for people who have been mistreated, who are broken and hurting. I’m turned off by intolerance. I’ve actually ended friendships with people who are closed-minded. They have a right to feel that way, but I’m OK with letting them go. I cry for someone else’s feelings being hurt. I cry for people with no hope.
“This pandemic has heightened our awareness of all those who are near and dear to our hearts. That gives me hope. I don’t know where I heard it, but it’s something that has always stuck with me: Strong women create a gentler world.”
Kathy Diamond is a great role model who proves that statement.