State graduate Elizabeth Koehler-Pentacoff was only 4
when she first traveled with her family to St. Coletta
in Jefferson, Wis. The primary reason for the trip was
to see her aunt, Sister Paulus Koehler, who was a
Franciscan nun at the convent.
was during subsequent visits that Koehler-Pentacoff got
to know the woman her aunt would eventually take care of
for more than 30 years, Rosemary Kennedy. The oldest
daughter of Joseph and Rose Kennedy had been sent to the
convent after a lobotomy failed to make a difference in
Rosemary’s battle with mental illness. Rosemary’s
violent temper tantrums led her father to approve the
experimental brain surgery in November 1941.
has chronicled the meetings that brought two families
together in "The Missing Kennedy: Rosemary Kennedy
and the Secret Bonds of Four Women" (Bancroft
Press, $27.50). The book includes 100 photos from her
are the Kennedys, rich and famous. And there’s us. I’ve
always admired the Kennedys very much. But Rosie to us
wasn’t really a Kennedy, she was part of our
family," Koehler-Pentacoff says.
growing up in Wisconsin, Koehler-Pentacoff moved to
Fresno because Fresno State had a child drama center.
She also hated the cold winters of her home state.
Koehler-Pentacoff lived in the Fresno area from
1975-1983. After graduating from Fresno State with
degrees in theater and education, she taught school at O’Neals,
worked in local libraries and directed plays through
Fresno Community Theatre.
met my husband, who was an engineer for PG&E, here.
We loved Fresno, but when Robert got transferred, we
moved to the Bay Area," Koehler-Pentacoff says.
has had a passion for writing since she was a youngster.
The advice she got at that time from her guidance
counselor was that the best opportunity to be a writer
meant becoming a reporter. She found a different outlet
and since 1989 has authored 10 books plus had articles
published by the San Francisco Examiner, Parents
Magazine, Parenting and Writer’s Digest."
"The Missing Kennedy" is her first adult
always loved writing and did it privately. I never did
anything about it until we had our son in 1984. I
discovered I wanted to stay home with him,"
loved being a mom but decided there was a need for
something more to stimulate her brain cells. That’s
when she started writing. She made a deal with her son,
Topher, that if would give her 15 minutes to type a
page, then they could play together.
son is now grown and living in Boston, so Koehler-Pentacoff
no longer has to make deals to get writing time.
Kennedy’s story had been floating around in the author’s
head for decades, but she never felt comfortable writing
it. What pushed Koehler-Pentacoff to pen the book was a
dream in which a young, blond man told her she was going
to write "The Missing Kennedy." Despite her
concerns about upsetting the family, the man in the
dream convinced her to tell the story.
Koehler-Pentacoff knew Rosemary through her time under
her aunt’s care, there was still research to be done.
During that work, she found a photo in a book of the
blond man in her dreams. It was David Kennedy, the
fourth child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, who had a
close connection with Rosemary.
book looks at how members of the Kennedy family had been
instructed not to visit Rosemary out of concern it would
be too upsetting. That changed when Ethel Kennedy
finally reconnected Rosemary with family and friends.
She became such a part of the Kennedy world and is
considered the inspiration behind Special Olympics and
the Best Buddies program.
only is the book a look into the lives of the family
that is the closest thing to royalty in America, but it
also shines a light on mental illness, especially
fitting since the first of October is mental illness
awareness week. One in four adults — approximately
61.5 million Americans — experiences mental illness in
a year. People with untreated mental illness comprise
one-third of our homeless population, according to the
National Alliance of Mental Illness.
explains why she uses the word "missing" in
the title rather than "forgotten,"
"forsaken," "hidden" or "least
famous" in describing Rosemary Kennedy.
specificness of ‘missing’ came along in her teenage
years," Koehler-Pentacoff says. "She began
reacting to hormones and teenage years. A lot of mental
illness starts showing up in teenage years.
her lobotomy, it was like she evaporated."