Gottschalk stands by Kennedy, Democrats

Gertrude Gottschalk had a run-in with Sen. John F. Kennedy in the late '50s which sticks clearly in her mind.

A co-organizer of Nevada's Democratic Women's Club, Gottschalk describes herself as Irish to her toes and a good Democrat, which made her perfect for a visit with the future president.

Gov. Grant Sawyer called her one day and asked her to attend a function at the Governor's Mansion with Sen. Kennedy. Sawyer told her to come early to visit with the senator.

"I hadn't even heard of Jack Kennedy," she said. "I got dolled up and went to the mansion. I was sitting on a couch waiting for the senator, and pretty soon this handsome thing comes bounding down the stairs, sits down and starts talking to me."

Gottschalk fielded questions from the senator until the beginning of the reception and then was invited to stand in the receiving line with him.

"I had the most ridiculous shoes on, and they were absolutely killing me," she said. "One of JFK's aides was standing behind me so I leaned back and asked, 'Does the senator do this very often?'"

The aide told Gottschalk the senator often stood in lines to talk to people.

"I told him, 'I guess (Kennedy's) heart wants to be president but I wonder if his feet do.'" she said. "Kennedy heard me and said, 'No, they don't.' He never forgot me after that."

At 83, Gottschalk tells stories from her life with a smile and a gleam in her blue eyes.

"So many things have shaped this century from the automobile to the airplane, underwater cables, electronics. Our first car was a 1913 Real. I went from that to man landing on the moon," she said. "I've had a wonderful life, I really have."

Gottschalk's entrance into the world wasn't exactly normal. It was a snowy day in 1916, and her parents were in a horse-drawn sleigh heading north from the family ranch to Ely. They made it as far as a tiny town called Preston when Gottschalk's mother went into labor.

"The woman was a midwife and so she did a good job getting me into the world, I guess," she said.

She grew up on the Riordan Ranch south of Ely and went to school through the eighth grade at the ranch school house. Her parents met when her mother was a teacher at the school.

"In those days all the girls would go out and teach in these horrible isolated areas," Gottschalk said. "Anyway, that's where she met my father."

Gottschalk and her two sisters were sent to high school at the Catholic Notre Dame south of San Francisco After she graduated and went to a year of secretarial school, she got a job with the Nevada state highway department in Ely as a secretary. One day a young man named George Gottschalk came to her at the end of a day and asked her to type some reports for him. She spent an hour working on it and then he asked her to go to a dance with him.

"I told him I had a date for the dance, so he wanted to know if I'd go to dinner," she said. "Of course, I never got to the dance. I was practically engaged to someone else. Later I found out he could type as well as I could and had a portable typewriter."

They were married in 1937, after Gertrude moved to Carson City to work for the road department. While in Carson City, she found other young Democrats and they started a Young Democrat Club.

"We gave the Republicans as bad a time as we could," she said.

Through the end of the Depression and during World War II, Gottschalk's political work was sidelined by the birth of her first son, Kerry, and her return to work while her husband served in the Navy. She went to work for the State Department of Education and it was there that she and co-worker Mildred Bray started the Democratic Women's Club to help support and elect Democratic candidates.

After George returned from the war, their second son, Mark, was born and Gottschalk worked at being a mother, but still found time to help with the club. In the '50s, she became more active and said the club helped get Sawyer elected to office. That's when she met Kennedy and embarked into what she calls her "hour of glory."

"That little thing about the shoes did it," she said. "They'd had Kennedy checking me out and asked me to be a Democratic National Women's Committee delegate from Nevada. I went to the (Democratic) Convention that year and Kennedy was chosen to run for president."

She served on the national level from 1960 to 1964, attending meetings, forming clubs and encouraging Nevadan women to keep interest in politics. After Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 she began to lose interest in national service.

"He was probably one of the most dedicated citizens we've ever had," she said. "He had a brilliant mind. I often wonder what would have happened if he had not been assassinated."

Still an active member of the Carson's Democratic Women's club, she admits politics have changed.

"The civility in politics has disappeared," she said. "It's not as bad in Nevada, but then I always look to the better side of things.

"One thing that bothers me is apathy, partially from young people. It's their lives and their future. I don't understand how they can't be interested."

Gottschalk thinks voter apathy is perhaps caused by "vicious campaigning," and said perhaps campaign finance reform is one way to solve the problem.

"People spend all this money trying to destroy the other person," she said. "People look at that and say, 'Why vote if that's the type of person they are?'"

Gottschalk's interests nowadays run towards her four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, gardening, reading and her activity in the Philanthropic Education Organization, which raises money to send women to college. But the women's club is still close to her heart.

"I'm still a good Democrat and probably will be until the day I die," she said.


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