A Pioneer from the Southside
Growing up on Trewyn Street on the southside of Peoria, Diana Hall was the oldest child of Clayburn and Betty Barnett. Along with her three siblings, she enjoyed growing up in the blue-collar, closely knit neighborhoods of the southside. Diana attended Manual High School in the mid-1960s, a dynamic time of change in Peoria and around the country. While attending Manual, she began working part-time as a secretary at Weisser Jewelry and Optical. This would lay the foundation for her career in the optical industry and a lifetime of community service.
Growing a Business
Diana graduated in the top ten of her class, but like many women in the 1960s, she did not have an opportunity to go to college. Instead, she got married shortly after graduation and began working at Weisser’s full-time. Over the next seven years, Diana had two children and then got divorced. At that point she had to balance a blossoming career with raising a young family as a single mother.
During her 18 years at Weisser, Diana took an interest in sales, marketing and management, and eventually became general manager of the firm’s 65 locations. In 1981, Weisser’s owner gave Diana two choices: either lie to protect him or be fired. She chose integrity over the solid paycheck. Later that day she called Dr. A. Arthur Bard, who owned Bard Optical’s single location in the Metro Centre. Along with two partners, Diana purchased the company with the intent to grow it into a vision leader in central Illinois.
Bard Optical now has 21 locations around the region, a full-service wholesale optical laboratory, and nearly 200 employees. The firm consistently ranks among the top 50 optical retailers in the country. Along the way, Diana has received a number of industry awards, including being named one of the most influential women in the optical industry.
Lifetime of Service
But growing her business was never enough, as Diana always wanted to give back to her hometown. As a first step, she graduated from the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership School, an experience which opened her eyes to the leadership opportunities that exist in Peoria. A Chamber member ever since, she has dedicated countless hours to a wide range of community projects.
Diana has served on the boards of many community organizations, often as chair. What makes her volunteerism stand out is that she is a “doer”—whatever she does, she jumps right in and gives it her all. She will not hesitate to pick up trash or a paintbrush, push a broom, or sell beer during the summer heat of Steamboat Days.
Diana has volunteered for groups like Peoria Area Community Events and been an active board member of the National Association of Women Business Owners, Heart of Illinois United Way, Downtown Rotary, YWCA, Center for Prevention of Abuse, Peoria Promise and many others. She served on Peoria’s Downtown Advisory Commission and was named the city’s “Litter Czarina” by Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis in 2010. She was also instrumental as a board member and chair of Focus Forward Central Illinois and the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council, advocating on behalf of economic development initiatives in central Illinois.
Diana always places a premium on helping programs that provide services to women and girls. That’s why she became a founding member of the Women’s Fund, a fund dedicated to supporting programs for women and girls. For her lifetime of success in business and community involvement, Junior Achievement of Central Illinois inducted her into the Central Illinois Business Hall of Fame in 2020.
Diana has spent a lifetime giving back to her community and her adoring family. Today, I am proud to serve as vice president and general counsel at Bard Optical, while her daughter Kim Malone is a teacher at Canton High School. Diana has 11 grandchildren and (soon) three great-grandchildren. She would also tell you she is very proud that her other child, “Baby Bard,” turns 80 this summer. A shining example of a tireless business and community leader, Diana Hall truly is a local legend. PM
Mick Hall is vice president and general counsel at Bard Optical. Visit bardoptical.com for more information.