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Remembering A Woman Who Would Never Let Us Forget
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Remembering A Woman Who Would Never Let Us Forget

Visitors to Notre Dame College’s Tolerance Resource Center immediately notice a plaque near the entrance, which reads:

“In honor of Margaret M. Kocevar ‘90
1968-1996
Notre Dame College Adjunct Professor"

"Remembering the dedicated service of a woman who preserved the memory of those who struggled for justice and equality throughout the world.”

Margaret "Maggie" Kocevar '90There are countless reminders of Margaret “Maggie” Kocevar within the Tolerance Resource Center. From a ceramic replica of her Scottish terrier, to hundreds of Maggie’s personal books and multimedia materials donated by the Kocevar family, the spirit of this former Notre Dame College student, professor and Holocaust historian is alive throughout the Center.

But beyond her passion for Holocaust research and teaching, who was Maggie Kocevar? She was a beloved daughter, a loyal sister, a fun-loving aunt, a teacher, an honorary big sister to two young girls, and a friend whose life was tragically cut short at the young age of 27 by a cardiac condition.

Maggie’s lifelong interest in the Holocaust began when she was a sophomore at Notre Dame Academy. She had fractured two vertebrae while jumping on a trampoline. During her convalescence, she read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, the story of a Dutch family that hid Jewish families during the Holocaust. “After that,” Maggie’s mother Eleanor Raper Kocevar ‘52 explained, “she started reading everything she could get her hands on about the Holocaust.”

Her passion for the Holocaust continued throughout college, when during her senior year, she wrote an exceptional paper which she was asked to present at a national historical convention in St. Louis. A representative from Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Visual History Foundation was in attendance and asked Maggie to join their international team of historians working to capture the stories of Holocaust survivors. Maggie personally interviewed and recorded the stories of more than 30 survivors, while earning a master’s degree in modern history from Cleveland State University, and pursuing her doctorate from Kent State University.

Fun-loving and mischievous, Maggie is remembered a "full of life and always on the go."Eleanor remembers her daughter as an engaging woman who, despite her red hair and freckles which clearly gave away her Irish-Catholic heritage, could put the very guarded Jewish Holocaust survivors at ease. “She’d say to the survivors, ‘I know I’m not Jewish, but I care about you and sharing your story.’” Eleanor continues, “Maggie was different. She communicated to the survivors that someone non-Jewish cared on a personal basis about what they had endured.” Many of the survivors that Maggie recorded became a part of her life and still keep in contact with her mother today.

But tempering her serious academic achievements and commitment to tolerance, Maggie was a charismatic, fun-loving young woman. Her mother has vivid memories of her daughter who she explains, “was crazy, full of life and always on the go, racing through the door with her coat and briefcase flying behind her.”

Although Maggie was a terrific student, she also had a penchant for mischief. Notre Dame College legend has it that when the Keller Center’s Mellen Pool was dedicated in the late 1980s, Maggie surprised College administration, faculty, staff and visiting dignitaries by plunging into the pool during the dedication ceremonies.

Associate art professor Rachel Morris and her family shared a very special bond with Maggie. From the time Rachel’s youngest child was six months old, Maggie babysat for the Morris family’s two daughters Gina and Jess. But Maggie was much more than a babysitter.

“Maggie had a wild, incredible imagination. She enjoyed herself every single day and passed that along to my children. She taught my daughters lessons that will last their whole lifetime,” says Rachel.

Maggie with Gina and Jess Morris at Jess's First Communion party.Rachel recounts stories of Maggie piling the kids into her car with mugs of hot cocoa to look at Christmas lights and sing Christmas carols as they drove along. But Maggie didn’t just make life fun for the Morris children. “Maggie would share what she was doing with Holocaust survivors in a sensitive, age appropriate manner around the dinner table. Jess could identify Hitler when she was four or five years old.”

Due to her influence, Rachel believes that her girls have grown up to be exceptionally tolerant young women, “living through Maggie’s own example.”

As the College celebrates the tenth anniversary of the Tolerance Resource Center, Rachel reflects on what life would be like if Maggie were still with us: “Maggie’s vision for what the Tolerance Resource Center could be was way beyond what we’ve done so far. If Maggie were still here, I know that her enthusiasm for tolerance would translate into hundreds of students being inspired to change the world as peacemakers.”

Mary Elizabeth Cotleur is the director of alumni relations at Notre Dame College.