Valerie Kockelman

As Interviewed by Braden Rosen, March 20th, 2017
"Marching in Milwaukee, 'Daddy, why are some people black?' We shall overcome, we shall overcome. 'Sir. please take her of your shoulders.' They are throwing bricks. We shall overcome one day."
Valerie Kockelman

Introductory Profile: About Valerie Kockelman

People have written that few Americans have “touched more lives for the better than Sergeant Shriver.” . So when I had the chance to interview Valerie Kockelman, my grandmother, about her experience working with Shriver and the Kennedy family in Chicago during the 1950s, I knew it would be an amazing story.

Valerie Kockelman now lives in Sonoma County, California, but grew up in poor neighborhoods in Chicago. Though she did not have much money, she managed to get a scholarship to study at Loyola College in Chicago. When she graduated in 1955, good jobs were hard to find. She knew short-hand, however, so one of her professors recommended her for a job working as the social secretary for Eunice Kennedy, a member of the Kennedy family and the wife of Sargent Shriver. She worked for them at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago, one of the largest office buildings in the world and owned by the Kennedy family.

Mrs. Kockelman describes Sargent Shriver as having always been committed to public service, social justice and making the lives of every person better. When she first started working for him, he was actively involved with the Chicago Board of Education and the Catholic Inter-racial Council. At the time, Chicago was segregated, and these organizations were committed to beginning the process of desegregation. Mrs. Kockelman would talk to Shriver about his plans for desegregating Chicago’s public schools, and she would often attend board meetings with him and even speak on his behalf. She also started a newspaper clipping service for him, which gave her the chance to talk with him about his beliefs and goals.

Toward the end of her time working with Shriver, in 1958, Mrs. Kockelman began to talk with him about national social programs. This was an exciting time because Shriver’s brother-in- law, John F. Kennedy, was beginning to think about running for President of the United States, and Kennedy would frequently talk with Shriver about programs to make America a better place. It was during this time and Kennedy and Shriver began to think about creating the Peace Corps, a program that would allow Americans to work around the world helping people in impoverished areas and to serve as cultural ambassadors. Shriver modeled this program on his own experience working in Germany in the 1930s. They also discussed the beginning of programs that would become Head Start, the Job Corps, VISTA, Foster Grandparents and Legal Services for the Poor.

Mrs. Kockelman says Sargent Shriver was one of the “finest men she has ever known.” He was inspired by the “goodness of all people” which led him to commit his life to making the world a better and more just place.