On Sept. 25, the Senior Citizens Center of Oak Park-River Forest will present our 17th Annual Ulyssean Award Event, honoring three individuals, Stephanie Clemens and Marge and Galen Gockel.
Marge and Galen, this amazing couple, worked together in so many ways, making our community richer by their presence. Unfortunately, we lost Marge in July, but she continues to be a shining example of what a true Ulyssean is all about.
Marge was born in Detroit and attended the University of Michigan School of Education. She began her career as a teacher, moving from Michigan to San Diego where she taught junior high. There she met Galen, a young naval officer. It didn’t take long before they were married and moved to Chicago where Galen attended graduate school and she taught elementary school. She was also employed for nearly 20 years by the University of Illinois Chicago where she rose to the position of acting director of its Office of School and Community Relations. She was also an officer of the Illinois Association of College Admissions Counselors. In 1988, she completed the course work for her M.A. degree from the university.
Marge was one of the co-founders of the Farmers Market, and was very involved in the League of Women Voters (LWV) where she was responsible for the recruitment, training and supervision of government observers. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust was also a recipient of her volunteerism and leadership.
The remarkable characteristic about Marge is that once she took on a project, it became an involvement for life. Farmers Market, LWV, and the Wright Preservation Trust, have all benefited from her participation over the years.
Galen received his undergraduate degree from Valparaiso University in 1953 in the middle of the Korean conflict, and immediately entered the U.S. Navy’s Officer Candidate School, serving aboard a heavy cruiser in Far Eastern waters. Upon his discharge in 1957, he began graduate work at the University of Chicago, earning a M.A. in social work and his PhD in sociology. During grad school, he joined the staff of the National Opinion Research Center and became one of the team members conducting a three-year national study of racially-integrated neighborhoods. He co-authored, among other publications, Side by Side: Racially Integrated Neighborhoods in America in 1970.
In 1969, Galen was asked to administer and staff the new Urban Studies Program of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. This program brought 65 students each semester to Chicago for a credit-bearing, experienced-based introduction to the problems and promises of urban America. He retired in 1995.
Galen has always been committed to community, so in 1969 he declared his candidacy for the District 97 school board in Oak Park and was elected. He was the first school board candidate to call for the discussion of, and planning for, a racially integrated system. His involvement in D97 resulted in the adoption of policies that led to the reorganization of schools, transforming Hawthorne and Emerson into junior high schools and the remaining eight schools becoming K through 6.
I believe Galen is the only person in Oak Park to be elected to three governing bodies, District 97, trustee for the village of Oak Park, and Oak Park Township Assessor.
Government has not been Galen’s only interest. He served as chairperson for three local arts organizations: Unity Temple Concert Series, Oak Park Festival Theatre and the Senior Citizens Center. His tenure with Festival Theatre, serving as managing director, earned him a Community Service Award from the Park District of Oak Park. During his years on the board of directors of the Senior Citizens Center, negotiations culminated in the merging of programs of the Senior Center with the Park District of Oak Park.
A number of years ago, when Galen was 75 years old, Dan Haley wrote an article, thanking Galen for his service to Oak Park. “This is a good man who has been at, or near, the heart of every key issue in this village since it was reinvented in the late 1960s as a progressive town with passion for racial diversity, good government and independent Democrats. To me and to many, Galen Gockel embodies an ideal of public service — thoughtful, civil, sometimes bold, sometimes cautious. He actually enjoys listening more than talking and while he is comfortable in the spotlight, he doesn’t have some sad craving for it. He knows and values the history of our town as well as anyone but has no need to be caught in an unchanging time warp.”
Galen’s response at that time was to make a case for old souls. He said, “Older people have more years to reflect on the times when they were wrong. Thus they need not be doctrinaire going forward. … Being wrong is always possible. Youngsters (those under 45) do not have the years behind them to identify their errors, so they can charge ahead, assuming they’re right.” He didn’t know it then, but that is what makes for a great Ulyssean.
Marge and Galen Gockel’s commitment was and is to keep on giving, learning and striving for the best. We are all enriched by their lives. Churchill summed it up very nicely when he said: “We make a living by what we get: We make a life by what we give”.
The Ulyssean Award evening is a virtual event and will take place via Zoom on Friday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. To be part of this presentation, please send your email address to Robert Giles, GilesRW@aol.com. You will be sent a link for the program at a later date.