KANKAKEE — Sylvia Rockett graduated from Kankakee Westview High School in 1970, but the future educator was far from ending her relationship with the city school district.
After graduating from Northern Illinois University, she returned to the district in 1974 as a teacher and later became a longtime principal, mostly at Kankakee Junior High School, before retiring in 2007 after a 33-year career.
Rockett died Tuesday morning at Riverside’s Miller Rehabilitation in Kankakee, after an extended illness. She was 66.
Funeral arrangements are pending at Jones Funeral Home in Kankakee.
She and her husband, Joe, also a 33-year teacher and administrator with District 111, had been together since the eighth grade when Joe was an athlete and she a cheerleader.
“We were destined to be together,” Rockett said of he and his wife on Tuesday afternoon. “We pretty much did everything together.”
Former Kankakee teacher and administrator Ron Jones noted he and Sylvia had been friends since kindergarten.
“That’s more than 60 years. She is my closest friend,” he said late Tuesday night. “When you lose someone you’ve loved, you die a little bit as well,” Jones said.
Jones and Rockett spent time together as deans of students at the junior high.
“We had as much fun and as great of a time as you could have,” he said.
Former Kankakee teacher and principal James Hudson was a few years younger than Rockett. He attended NIU in August 1974, just months after she ended her college career there.
She helped him get into the school, and she and Joe often visited him there. After graduation, he taught English and speech at the high school. The two families became west Kankakee neighbors and then close friends.
“We were far more than co-workers,” he said. “I watched how the Rocketts lived their lives, and I patterned myself after them.”
“I’m messed up by this. So messed up. She was like an older sister to me. She helped me so much with education,” Hudson added. “I’m grateful to God to have known her.”
After graduation from Westview, Sylvia was headed to Northern Illinois, but Joe had an athletic scholarship to Eastern Illinois University. He actually accepted Eastern’s scholarship offer and dropped it into the mailbox at the Kankakee Post Office.
When Sylvia informed him on her college choice, Joe raced back to the post office and had workers retrieve his envelope. He decided to attend Northern as well.
Former Kankakee school superintendent Kay Green was the person responsible for assigning Sylvia Rockett as junior high principal.
“Sylvia always had a remarkable ability to relate to young people,” she said. “And the students always seemed to respect her and find what she had to say as important to them. She had a great way of encouraging children to reach the standards she set.”
During her tenure, she served as principal of Lafayette Primary, Aroma Park Primary and then as assistant principal and principal at the junior high. Prior to those roles, she taught at King Middle Grade School and at the junior high.
During her long career she likely impacted the lives of thousands of students and their parents, Green said.
The news of Rockett’s illness and death touched Green.
“She is just way too young for something like this. She had so much more to give.”