Rutgers University Dedicates Plaque Honoring First Peace Corps Volunteers
By Guest Contributor on Friday, November 12th, 2010
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are finding many creative and meaningful ways to mark the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s enduring legacy.
The first group of Volunteers to enter Peace Corps training in 1961 commemorated Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary by dedicating a plaque at Hegeman Hall on the Rutgers University campus on November 5, 2010. Colombia I trainees arrived at Rutgers on 24 June 24, 1961, resided in Hegeman Hall during their training and became the first of 200,000 Volunteers to serve in Peace Corps to date. (See plaque text here. See vintage newsreel report here.)
Temperatures were low outdoors for the unveiling of the plaque but spirits were high, chairs were tightly packed and enthusiasm for the event carried us through the bone chilling winds. Joanna Regulska, Rutgers Dean for International Programs, spoke of Rutgers’ commitment to international engagement and assured us that had she not been growing up in Poland, she too would have been a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV).
Mary Day Kent, Advocacy Coordinator for the nonprofit CARE, revealed captivating data about the effective Peace Corps/CARE partnership. After two years, when Colombia I volunteers were leaving the country in 1963, CARE records indicate that 44 schools, 29 roads, 27 aqueducts, 4 health centers, 100 sports fields and over 1000 latrines had been built and 26 cooperatives had been formed through their efforts with Colombians. Those of us who followed Colombia I Volunteers know that the partnership with CARE continued and the number of successful projects increased dramatically through the twenty years Peace Corps Volunteers served in Colombia.
Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, updated us on the re-entry of Peace Corps in Colombia in September 2010, with nine Volunteers serving and 18 more to arrive in January as trainers to English teachers. She recounted some of the poignant stories recorded by Colombia I Volunteers and remarked on their relevancy to volunteer experiences in over 120 countries where Peace Corps has served.
Juan Esteban Orduz, President, Colombia Coffee Growers Federation (Cafeteros), recognized the support and assistance given to coffee farmers by Peace Corps and reminded us that Juan Valdez, the inveterate international symbol of Colombian coffee, was also born in 1961.
Darrel Young, Colombia I, spoke eloquently of the pressures and exhilaration felt by the first trainees knowing as they did that stakes and risks were both high and highly visible (link to Darrel Young’s remarks). Other Colombia I volunteers who spoke in the course of the two days include Michael Willson, Philip Lopes, Ron Schwarz, Buster Lewis, Ned Chalker, Martin Acevedo, Dennis Grubb, John Montoya, Buck Northrup, Bruce (Pacho) Lane, and Gordon Radley in memory of his deceased brother Larry.
I was pleased to participate in all the events at Rutgers and to represent two RPCV organizations: Friends of Colombia and the National Peace Corps Association. I announced the initiation of a new Friends of Colombia project, the 50th Anniversary Scholarship Fund, to which Colombia I volunteers have made the founding gift of $2,000.
In the words of Kevin Quigley, President, National Peace Corps Association, who spoke on the panel addressing the Rutgers community, the rest of us “stand on the shoulders of the Peace Corps pioneers who comprise Colombia I” and, I add, on the shoulders of hundreds of other volunteers who answered the early call to action by John F. Kennedy and Sargent Shriver in 1961.
This post was written by guest contributor Patricia Wand (Colombia 63-65), NPCA board member representing the Americas.
See photos from the Rutgers celebration: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peacecorpsconnect/sets/72157625369044376/