Violet "Vi" Rocek devoted years of her life to helping Native American children thrive. A social worker at Twin Cities nonprofits serving Indigenous families, she herself was a mother and a foster parent for many Native American children.
Rocek's skill and experience were recognized by former Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich, who in the 1980s appointed her to the Children's Trust Fund Advisory Council, a group advising the public safety commissioner on preventing child abuse.
Rocek died Dec. 6 after contracting COVID-19 at the Stoney River Ramsey memory care facility in Ramsey. She was 85.
Rocek was born in South Dakota on Dec. 14, 1934, named Violet Ethel DuBray. She was the youngest of 10 children on a cattle ranch near Winner, learning to cook by making meals for the ranch hands. She was an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
Her daughters recalled their mother's large and forthright personality — stern but indulgent when it came to her grandchildren, funny and outspoken. She was a fashionista, they said, with an infectious laugh, and an active Catholic who later became Lutheran.
"You knew when she was around," her daughter Lori Gebhardt said.
Rocek moved from South Dakota to Minneapolis around 1970 to be closer to a brother, Gebhardt said. She worked many different jobs over the years. But her calling was social work, said daughter Lil Cardona, also a social worker. For many years Vi Rocek worked at the Division of Indian Work, a Minneapolis nonprofit serving Native American families.
She met Keith Rocek, to whom she was married for nearly 30 years, in middle age.
As hard as she worked, she also taught her daughters to enjoy life and "have a laugh or two," Cardona said. She loved going out to the theater, nightclubs and country music concerts — the long-gone Carlton Celebrity Dinner Theater was a favorite — often taking her daughters along.
In 1994, Rocek graduated from Augsburg University with a master's degree in social work. She worked nearly a decade at PATH Inc., a nonprofit that provides foster care and adoption services.
Rocek was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by her brother Kenneth DuBray of Kellogg, Minn., daughters Lori Gebhardt of Harlingen, Texas, Lil Cardona of Goleta, Calif., and Tracey Broeckelman of Coon Rapids, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Rocek was cremated and will likely be buried this summer in South Dakota.
Jennifer Bjorhus • 612-673-4683