The information below has been compiled from a variety of sources. If the reader has access to information that can be documented and that will correct or add to this woman’s biographical information, please contact the Nevada Women’s History Project.
At a glance:
Born: February 04, 1916, Preston, Nev.
Death: March 15, 2019, Carson City, Nev.
Maiden Name: Riordan
Race/nationality/ethnic background: Irish, English
Married: George Letcher Gottschalk, December 31, 1937
Children: sons Kerry George Gottschalk and Mark Riordan Gottschalk
Primary city and county of residence and work: Carson City, Nev.
Major Fields of work: Democratic National Committeewoman, Carson City Democratic Women’s Club, Nevada Women’s History Project, Chapter X, PEO, Mark Twain Garden Club, Philanthropic Education Organization, and several bridge clubs.
Other role identities: Wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother
Long-lived Carson City clubwoman involved in national Democratic party
Gertrude Riordan Gottschalk was born in White Pine County to pioneer parents James and Jennie Riordan on February 04, 1916. Her parents were on the way, by sleigh, to the Ely, Nevada, hospital for the upcoming birth but due to a snowstorm Gertrude was delivered by a midwife on a neighboring ranch. Gertrude attended school in Ely and then at age 13 was sent to a boarding school in Belmont, California. At the completion of high school she was accepted at Stanford University but the country was amid the Great Depression and circumstances prevented her from attending.
She took secretarial training instead and ended up working for the Nevada State Department of Transportation in Ely, and it was there she met Lovelock, Nev. native, George Letcher Gottschalk. The marriage took place December 31, 1937 in Carson City, Nev., and Gertrude then spent the rest of her life there. Gertrude and George had two sons, Kerry and Mark, and this author and Kerry were in the same kindergarten class. Gertrude and this author’s lives intersected for a period of sixty-two years until Gertrude’s death in 2019.
Long-time Nevadan Kay Winters recalls meeting Gertrude in 1942 shortly after she had moved to Carson City with her small son. Kay had stopped to visit a next-door neighbor who wanted her to meet Gertrude who had just driven up in a small two-seater foreign coupe. Kay remembered Gertrude had placed her infant son Kerry on a ledge behind the car seats. Kay recalled saying, “Does he ever roll down?” and Gertrude laughing and saying, “not yet!” Gertrude and Kay’s sons would attend school together from kindergarten through high school graduation.
In 1947, Gertrude was recruited by State Superintendent of Education Mildred Bray to re-establish the Democratic Women’s Club in Carson City. In 1947, her second son Mark was born. Gertrude was busy caring for two growing children, school activities centered around her children, participating in the establishment of Carson City’s first garden club in 1950 and subsequently helping establish the second Carson City garden club, Desert Gardeners, in 1952. She joined various bridge clubs and played bridge until her 103rd year. Her friend Pat Holub always picked her up for bridge club once Gertrude was no longer able to drive. Holub said that Gertrude was “such a sweet lovely lady – always a lady.”
A very memorable event in her life was when she met Senator John F. Kennedy in the late 1950s. She had been invited by Governor Grant Sawyer to a function at the Governor’s Mansion and Senator Kennedy was going to be present. She recollected, “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.” She had the opportunity to ask and field questions from the Senator and said, “I had the most ridiculous shoes on, and they were absolutely killing me.” “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 her Kennedy often stood in long lines to greet people. She then said to the aide “I guess Kennedy’s heart wants to be president, but I wonder if his feet do.” “Kennedy heard me and said, “No, they don’t.” Gertrude remembered that “He never forgot me after that.”
In a December 20, 2001 interview with Nevada Appeal reporter Amanda Hammon, Gertrude told her “That little thing about the shoes did it. They’d had Kennedy checking me out and asked me to be a Democratic National Woman’s Committee delegate from Nevada .“ She served as Democratic National Committeewoman from 1960 to1964, quite an honor for a woman coming from a small town with a population of just under 10,000 individuals.
She remained active in the Democratic Women’s Club. She worked in the campaigns of notable Nevada Senators Patrick McCarren, Alan Bible, Howard Cannon, Harry Reid, and Richard Bryan and Governors Grant Sawyer, Mike O’Callaghan and Richard Bryan from the 1940s through the late 1990s.
In the 2001 Nevada Appeal interview, she admitted politics had changed and that “The civility in politics has disappeared.” She was concerned about the political apathy she saw, especially among young people.
In 2005, 89-year-old Gertrude and her equally elderly sister-in-law Eleanor Gottschalk joined the contingent of Nevada Woman History Project members on an unforgettable trip to Washington D.C. for the unveiling of Nevada’s Sarah Winnemucca statue in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Congress. There were no accommodations made for either woman because of their ages. They rode the subway with the members, traipsed the hall of the Capital Building and attended all the functions.
Gertrude lived to be 103 years old. During her lifetime American women gained the right to vote, the country fought in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Afghanistan, the Gulf War and Iraq. Men went to the moon in 1969 and she lived to see women hurled into space in the 1970s. Medical technology transformed America, but Gertrude was from the “old school”. She exercised, ate right and didn’t subscribe to medication. The internet was invented and became user friendly. She set up an email account about the time she was 97 years old. She lived to see women run for state and national political offices – and win them. She cast her first vote for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 and her last for Hillary R. Clinton in 2016. In an October 22, 2016, interview with Reno Gazette Journal Seth A. Richardson, Gertrude and Seth were at her polling place. She told him about casting her first presidential vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt when she was 21 years of age and that she had never missed an election in nearly eight decades. And then she said, “with a smile on her face – and some help from a poll worker – the far-off fantasy of electing a woman for president came closer to reality as she voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.”
Gertrude’s excellent physical and mental health allowed her to live life to the fullest – almost up to the day she left this earth.
Researched and written by Marcia Bernard Cuccaro – March 2020