A founder, former Board Member and President of The International Center and, later, of the Nationalities Council of Indiana
Susan McKee promoted Indianapolis’ unique foreign heritage, encouraged cross-cultural exchange and improved inclusiveness through initiatives such as the International Festival and the Nationalities Council.
Over 50 years ago, Susan McKee embarked on a unique journey to celebrate Indianapolis’ international heritage, fostering cross-cultural exchange, and enhancing inclusivity. Her involvement and leadership in The International Center and the Nationalities Council of Indiana were shaped by a combination of fortuitous circumstances and her unwavering passion.
Susan McKee’s unexpected transition from the bustling West Coast to the heart of the Midwest, specifically Indianapolis in 1968, led her to a city she hadn’t envisioned as her home. However, her initial experiences in Indianapolis unveiled the city’s rich cultural diversity hidden in plain sight.
At the time, the Indiana Council on World Affairs was hosting the (actual name then: National Council for International Visitors), a vibrant initiative of the United States Department of State that welcomed future foreign leaders to build lasting connections in the United States. This program exemplified Indiana’s long-standing tradition of Hoosier Hospitality, extending a warm welcome to visitors across the globe, including the hundreds of officers in foreign armed services who came to study at the now-closed Fort Benjamin Harrison. It also introduced Susan to the diverse, global community within the city’s borders. Throughout its history Indianapolis has been about 10% foreign-born, but the countries of origin have changed over the years, from European (mostly German) to Asian (including India and the Philippines).
As a journalist, Susan used her platform at The Indianapolis Star to shine a light on The International Center, facilitating connections between Hoosiers and the world in an era before the internet. Driven by her deep fascination with all things international, Susan embarked on a culinary adventure across the city, exploring Italian-American shops, engaging with Greek grocers, and uncovering the hidden gems of Mexican cuisine—a gastronomic world that had remained largely concealed from the general populace.
With that vision in mind, Susan McKee began serving on the board of The International Center and, later, the Nationalities Council of Indiana. Originally a part of the International Center, the now-independent Nationalities Council represents more than 50 ethnic and cultural organizations, all dedicated to making Indianapolis a better, more inclusive place to live. Looking back, Susan fondly recalls how Cuban immigrants assisted Vietnamese newcomers—and now, the cycle continues, as Burmese residents support Afghan refugees who help Ukrainian immigrants in turn.
Susan was president of the International Center in 1976-1977 when the center’s executive director first proposed an International Festival. This annual festival is one of the city’s signature events, where diverse local communities come together to share their history and culture with Indianapolis. This “pay it forward” mentality is a testament to the lasting impact of Susan McKee’s work here in Indianapolis.
In addition to her significant contributions to fostering cross-cultural exchange and inclusivity in Indianapolis through her work with The International Center and the Nationalities Council of Indiana, Susan McKee also founded the International Women’s Club of Indiana (now International Women Indiana), further enhancing her legacy of promoting international connections and cultural understanding in the community.
During her time here, Susan has witnessed how the city’s traditional, anti-immigrant attitude grew into a more welcoming and inclusive community. Now, her passion for global exchange and intercultural communication has truly left a legacy on the city she’s called home for more than 50 years.