Making Democracy Work Award

Making Democracy Work Award

Connie Robinson

Connie Robinson is the recipient of the 2020 Making Democracy Work Award.  Robinson is the longest-serving City Council member in Evansville history and has an unwavering commitment as a strong minority female voice in local government.  She is also an advcate for local government policies that protect people, including the LGBTQ community, from discrimination in employment, housing and education.

Robinson was the first African American woman to ever seek election to the City Council in 1995.  For the next 24 years she represented the center city’s low-income 4th Ward, focusing on affordable housing, extended bus service, economic development and other projects that in her words could “really help people.” She became the first African American woman to serve as the council president, and she was credited for working across political party lines to achieve solutions.

She retired from the City Council at the end of 2019 but continues to serve the community as a newly appointed member of the Evansville Water and Sewer Utility Board.  She is a native of this city, a graduate of the University of Evansville, and is founder and owner of HMR Enterprises, a wholesale distributor of disposable products to restaurants and other venues.

Katy Leahy Hein

Kate Leahy Hein is the recipient of our 2019 Making Democracy Work Award. Kate, who was a Russian Language and Literature and East Central European Studies major at University of Colorado at Boulder, has her Master’s from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She relocated to Evansville in 1998 with her family and is currently an adjunct instructor at USI, where she’s taught Political Science for fifteen years and Global Studies for two.

She started working with LWVSWIN through a project in a USI research methods course on City/County Consolidation where students developed a survey and analyzed its results following the 2012 election. Since 2014, she has served as moderator for Meet Your Legislators and two community forums on public education. 

She has given talks locally on free trade agreements and national security policy with respect to Russian interference, and on Earth Day in 2017, she helped organize the March for Science with colleagues at USI. In addition, she moderated a 2015 mayoral debate for the City of Evansville.

She and her husband have two teenage daughters and a son. At present, Kate’s finishing her first Young Adult fiction novel on the importance of liberal democracy. She is looking forward to the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment and the coming general election year.


kathy rybak

Katherine Rybak is the recipient of the 2018 Making Democracy Work Award.Kathy is a graduate of Cornell Law School who came to Evansville in 1979 to take her first job, with Indiana Legal Services. It turned into her life’s work, being a free lawyer for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the community: the elderly, the homeless, the battered, the sick and uncared for.Indiana Legal Services attorney 

She does it not just with a strong sense of what’s right, but with a passion for the law. Kathy believes in the law and she’s relentless in pursuing it. She has routinely taken on the mammoth state Medicaid bureaucracy, the Family & Social Services Administration, the disability system, unscrupulous landlords and creditors, and even some practices in the local courts. She has taken five cases to the Indiana Supreme Court and has been cited in the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal. In 2017 her alma mater, Cornell, honored her with its Distinguished Alumni Award.

When Kathy’s not working she’s volunteering, doing free tax returns for low-income and elderly, raising funds for a homeless shelter, recruiting volunteers for the Probate Court’s guardianship program, and serving in the local Bar Association’s community programs.


Robert Dion

University of Evansville Political Science Associate Professor Robert Dion is the recipient of the 2017 Making Democracy Work Award.  

Dr. Dion firmly believes that citizens need to understand and be involved in the political system. He has taught American politics courses at the University of Evansville since 2001. Before he came to the University of Evansville, he taught at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and at Wabash College.

Outside the classroom, Professor Dion serves as the chairperson of the local civil rights commission and on the boards of several organizations. He is regularly quoted in news stories about political developments in Indiana or in the United States, and he has appeared frequently on radio and television news programs, including several French-language broadcast outlets.

Dr. Dion has moderated many local debates for the League, as well as speaking at our Lunches with the League.


Gail Riecken

Indiana State Legislator Gail Riecken was the recipient of the 2016 Making Democracy Work Award. 

Gail has served as a Democratic member of the Indiana House of Representatives, representing the 77th District, since 2009. She was also the Democratic candidate for Mayor of Evansville in 2015. Prior public-service positions include the Evansville City Council from 1989-99, Executive Director of the Evansville Parks and Recreation Department, Business Relations Specialist for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and Neighborhood Coordinator for the Community Action Program.

Gail's extensive list of community involvement includes Ark Crisis Prevention Nursery Co-Founder, Family & Children Services Board Member, Conrad Baker Foundation Director, HOPE of Evansville President, Junior League President, the Preservation Alliance Board, Pigeon Creek Greenway Advisory Board member, Evansville Dance Theater Board President, and the Pigeon Creek Greenway Advisory Board, the Little Lambs Board, Citizens against Rape in Evansville, and Local and State Child Abuse Prevention Board member and Task Force Coordinator.


Loretta Rush

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush was the recipient of the 2015 Making Democracy Work Award.

Loretta Rush took the oath of office as Indiana's 108th Supreme Court Justice on November 7, 2012 and became Chief Justice on August 18, 2014. She serves on the Commission on improving the Status of Children in Indiana and has represented Indiana multiple times at the National Judicial Leadership Summit on the Protection of Children. She serves as liaison to the Division of Supreme Court Administration, the Division of State Court Administration, the Indiana Judicial Center, the Indiana Conference for Legal Education Opportunity, and the Indiana Judges Association, and chairs the Judicial Nominating/Qualifications Commission.

As juvenile court judge in the Tipecanoe County Superior Court for 14 years, she assisted with the creation of the county's CASA program. During her tenure, she helped initiate, develop and sustain more than 25 youth programs.

Judge Rush was the keynote speaker at the 2015 Women's Equality Day Luncheon in Evansville.


Vaneta Becker

Indiana State Senator Vaneta Becker was the receipient of the 2013 Making Democracy Work Award.

Senator Becker has represented southwestern Indiana since 1981, serving in the Indiana House of Representatives until 2005, and in the Indiana Senate since then.

During that time she has worked tirelessly to represent her district, and she has received numerous awards for outstanding service at the state level. Honoring groups include the Indiana Area Agencies on Aging, the Indiana Coalition for Human Services, Leadership Evansville, the Indiana Retired Teachers Association, the Evansville Teachers Association, the Albion Fellows Bacon Center, Ark Crisis Center, Komen Evansville Affiliate, the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, the Indiana Primary Health Care Association, the Indiana Coalition gainst Domestic Violence, Indiana Association for Home and Hospice Care, the Indiana Council of Administrators of Special Education, the Indiana Home Care Task Force, the Lampion Center, ALCOA, USI Alumni Association, and the Indiana Association of Ophthalmologists.

She is on the Board of the ARK Crisis Prevention Nursery as well as the Indiana Commission on Women.


Jim Daniels

Jim Daniels was the recipient of the 2012 Making Democracy Work Award.

Mr. Daniels was honored for his years of dedication and leadership to the Meet Your Legislators meetings. The Award was presented at the February 25th session of Meet Your Legislators at Central Library in Evansville.

Mr. Daniels has long been active with Sustainable Evansville and the Izaak Walton League of Indiana. He also served as Evansville recycling coordinator. 


Dennis Avery

Retiring Indiana Representative Dennis Avery was the recipient of the 2011 Making Democracy Work. The award "honors a leader who has contributed in a meaningful way to ensure our community remains a strong and vibrant place to live and work."

Avery, who retired at the end of the 2010 legislative session, was honored for his 36 years of service to the 75th District and the state of Indiana. League president Roberta Heiman commented that "During his Statehouse career, Avery pushed for legislation dealing with children's rights, including reporting child abuse and neglect and the creation of programs to help prevent further incidents."

Retiring Dennis Avery surprised with award



Susan K. Kirk

Vanderburgh County Clerk Susan K. Kirk was the recipient of the second annual Making Democracy Work Award in 2009

Ms. Kirk was instrumental in establishing polling stations in the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Libraries during the 2008 and 2009 elections, making the election more accessible to Vanderburgh County residents.

Kirk receives award for early voting

She also cooperated with a League survey of poll workers that led to several changes in the training of these workers.


Randall Shepherd

The 2008 Making Democracy Work Award recipient was Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepherd, honored for his work on the Kernan-Shepherd report on streamlining local government.