WEST DES MOINES—Janet Belluchi isn’t afraid of truth. Death, old-age, decay, spirituality, intimacy, AIDS, love, marriage, emotion—these are the topics she addresses unflinchingly. Methodically. As she would the weather or sports. The contents of her mind are naked. Delivered in blunt, sentence fragments. Whittled with nothing but a chuckle.
The only extravagance she bore was a chai latte, over which she outlined her life’s story. Born September 1941 to hardworking parents in Des Moines. Never left the city, residentially. Graduated from East High School. Worked for a couple’a years. Got kicked out of Wartburg College for bad grades. Made a name for herself in the financial industry.
It was there, deep within the hierarchal work force, that Jan rigorously advocated for gender equality. She dismantled segregationist tendencies in her work environment, like the men’s and women’s lunchrooms and a promotion system rooted in sexism. She eventually served on the Young Women’s Christian Association board and became board president of the Young Women’s Resource Center.
Jan fought what she saw as the social oppression of women, although she, herself, did not necessarily identify as one.
“Well there’s men and there’s women and there’s me,” Jan said. “And I don’t know where I am.”
Jan thrived in the investment companies she worked for, so much that one employer, Central Life, gave her a tuition-free ticket back to school. Jan earned her degree from Mundelein College in Illinois and returned to the company of which she would soon be director.
She played all sports available to her in every walk of life—softball, power volleyball, golf and marathon running. Jan loved running. She ran until her legs wouldn’t run anymore.
Then she met Sue Dwyer. That’s when Jan realized she was lesbian.
She took Sue to a nice restaurant. Sent her pictures of ducks. Sue told a friend, “I think I’m being courted.” Then one day, Jan asked Sue if she would dog-sit at her home for the weekend. The weekend came and went; Jan left and came back, but Sue stayed for the next 20 years.
Sue introduced Jan to the Women’s Cultural Collective, a community of primarily lesbian women that phoenixed from the remains of socialist bookstore in 1979.
“It’s a good group of women,” Jan said. “We don’t have a charter. We don’t have bylaws. It’s just by consensus we do things. It has been for years.”
Just as she did in the finance industry, Jan thrust her efforts into equality, but this time for the gay community. She became board president of the Gay and Lesbian Resource Center and attended workshops on sexuality. She encouraged the WCC to identify as a lesbian collective and came out to her sisters.
Marriage was a logical choice for Jan and Sue. When Iowa legalized gay marriage in the wake of California’s bipolar decision to rescind it, Jan proposed and Sue hesitated. Why do we have to, she said?
“And I said ‘well, for one thing,…if we’re married, you don’t have to pay inheritance tax,’” Jan said. “Other than that, there wasn’t that much of a benefit. It made sense. Chances are, she’s going to die before me, but you don’t always know that. And she doesn’t have much. We may have to get a divorce for her to get the benefits she needs.”
On these grounds, Sue accepted the marriage proposal, and so the day Iowa said ‘yes’ to love and logic, the couple wed in the little town of Adel.
That was nine years ago. Jan and Sue now live in West Des Moines with their three cats—Casper, Cali and Pawleen. Jan is retired from the finance industry and sells items as a third party on eBay and Amazon. She’s a season ticket holder of Drake Women’s basketball. She belongs to a local church but doesn’t attend.
“Some days I [believe in a god], and some days I don’t,” Jan said. “I think we get reincarnated. I’m going to come back as a cat and live in my home. Find a home that’s like mine. We treat our animals well.”
Here on Earth, Jan lives by a simple doctrine: be open and honest. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
As always, Jan still diligently seeks equality.
“I don’t think [equality] is going to happen until women do it,” Jan said. “I don’t think men are ever going to accept us as completely equal. Women are starting to do that, now, but I don’t know in my lifetime if I’m going to see it.
“Of course, I didn’t think I was going to see gay rights or gay marriage, either.”
Jan Belluchi retired from financial services in 2010 and in her wake left a legacy of advocation for gender equality. Belluchi grew up in Des Moines. She attended East High School where she played golf—the only sport offered to girls at the time—and after working in the industry a few years after graduation returned to school to get a bachelor’s in finance. She and her wife Sue live in West Des Moines with their cats Calli, Pawleen and Casper.