Surrounded by family members, including her 11-month-old great-grandchild, Marjorie Jean Gockel died on July 17, 2020. Thus ended a life dedicated to community betterment which many have described as “iconic.”
Born in 1933 in Detroit to Ruth and Harry Wyche, at a young age she and her family moved to Lapeer, Michigan. After graduating from the University of Michigan’s School of Education, the newly-minted instructor drove all the way to San Diego to teach junior high school in a rapidly-expanding school district there.
Marge soon made many friends. With three other young women from the Midwest, she rented a conveniently located oceanfront apartment. Another major demographic in San Diego then comprised young, male, single naval officers. Not surprisingly, “mixers” were held on Sunday afternoons at an officers club.
By happenstance, one of these mixers was attended by her future husband, whose discharge from the Navy and return to the Midwest were imminent. Soon they were married in her home town in 1957 and settled in Chicago’s South Side so that Galen could attend graduate school. For three years, she taught in an elementary school district in the southern suburbs.
One day a neighbor on the staff of a Chicago-based civil rights organization reported that they were assisting an African-American couple which was having trouble finding housing in an all-white western suburb called “Oak Park.” They were obviously the victims of discrimination. Would Marge and her husband serve as testers, posing as prospective buyers? Thus they were introduced to the village, and moved to Oak Park in 1969.
Soon after arriving, Marge noticed that the community lacked a farmers market. Something had to be done. With co-conspirator Carla Lind, they decided that a new market should be modeled after ones in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Madison, Wisconsin. After more than a year of research and organizing, they proposed that one be established. The village board was reluctant — it might attract rats and other vermin, the village would have to clean up after messy farmers, and there would be traffic snarls. Eventually the village formed an official farmers market commission, and appointed Marge its chair. It opened in 1976, and became a major feature of Oak Park life and a gift to its residents.
Next, the League of Women Voters. One of its major projects was monitoring the actions of local government. It was Marge’s job to recruit, train, and supervise member-observers, each of whom would attend meetings of one of the seven units of local government and report back to the League. For her service, the League of Women Voters named her the recipient of its Hazel Hanson Award.
Next, Frank Lloyd Wright. The acquisition and extensive renovation of the Wright Home & Studio was a major community effort for many years. Marge volunteered as a docent and served for a time on the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust Board of Directors. For her years of volunteer service, she received the FLW Preservation Trust’s 2005 Volunteer of the Year Award.
Professionally, Marge was employed for almost 20 years, primarily at the University of Illinois Chicago. She rose to the position of assistant director, then acting director, of its Office of School and Community Relations, whose mission was the recruitment of students to the university. She was also an officer of the Illinois Association of College Admissions Counselors.
And she was a scholar. In 1988 she completed course work for the M.A. degree from the university. For her thesis she invented the concept of “metrophobia” which measured the extent to which prospective college students are reluctant to attend colleges located in large cities.
Marge is survived by her children, Andrew and Rebecca; her husband of 63 years, Galen; eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, with another one on the way!