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When Diona Neeser joined the UAA as Operations Manager in December of 2015, major changes were taking place with the organization. She was the only fulltime staff and worked directly with then Executive Director Phil Charlton.

“The UAA had recently become a stand-alone organization, attempting to stand on its own two feet as an association” Diona recalls. “Phil and I had to really fine-tune our mission and goals. It involved a lot of change and fast.

“Shortly after I started, I told the late Will Nutter that I felt like I had been dropped in the middle of the ocean. His response was what any good mentor would say, ‘“Well, if you weren’t a good swimmer before, you are about to become great.”’

Diona’s initial role was an all-encompassing job, one that didn’t transition until last fall when she was elevated to Program & Operations Manager. The UAA hired more staff over the years such as Renee Philips and Susan Roberts, and Diona says her position is more balanced now, which helps her handle the extreme busyness of a growing association.

“The best thing about the UAA is working with professionals from across the industry. I am surrounded by amazing staff, volunteers and partners such as ISA, TCIA and more. They really are some of the best people and I am blessed to know them. The two members who have been mentors to me, Will Nutter and Nelsen Money, came from this industry. Their impact on me professionally and personally is strong and I try hard to make them proud.”

A behind-the-scenes person who likes to keep her head down and focus on getting the job done, Diona doesn’t seek the spotlight, but she fondly recalls one occasion when she received special acknowledgment.

“In 2017, the Executive Board decided that it would be a grand idea to get me on stage to recognize me, in front of hundreds of people as the Queen of the Cat herders,” Diona remembers. “Though I felt completely out of sorts and moderately embarrassed, it was also very sweet of them to say thank you and in such a unique way.”

When Diona is not at work, you will find her with family, especially her husband, son and daughter whom she calls “my center.” Game nights, camping, college football and high school softball are favorite activities. Oh, and the next time you catch up with Diona on a UAA Zoom call or at an in-person event, ask her to share more details about a childhood experience she will never forget.

“When I was three years old, I had 27 stitches from the center of my forehead to the center of my head after colliding with my cat and a metal thermos. No animals were harmed, though I cannot say the same for the thermos or my head.”