Making the Video: “Joan McKniff”
By Guest Contributor on Friday, December 3rd, 2010
Playwright and videographer, Suzanne Marshall, of Sarasota, Florida, was eager to interview Joan McKniff. A true Peace Corps pioneer, Joan had been a member of the first all-female Peace Corps group in 1963 to Colombia. Suzanne got that interview, and created a video for the National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) My Piece of the Peace Corps YouTube Contest featuring Joan’s amazing, historic firsthand stories of Peace Corps’ first years. Below, Suzanne recounts Joan’s journey to becoming an ambassador of peace.
How can I possibly be an ambassador of peace?
This question provoked Joan McKniff at a highly inopportune time. She was already in the air, flying toward her Peace Corps training. The year was 1963.
You can’t do it. YOU CAN’T DO IT.
This was the answer that plagued her.
But hadn’t she been absolutely sure of this since the inauguration of President Kennedy, when he had called her—yes, her—to action? He had visited her high school as her senator. She was impressed by him. She shared his idealism. And the moment she graduated from college, she planned to volunteer for her country and promote peace in the world…
Yet, on the journey from Boston to Albuquerque, she became overwhelmed with the magnitude of what she had set out to do, and during the changeover in Chicago, she determined to return home. Pronto.
This is where two men enter the scene. Two amiable and enthusiastic young men. When they overheard Joan asking about her ticket at the service counter, they exclaimed that they, too, were going to Albuquerque and the Peace Corps training, and insisted they must all sit together.
Joan was swept back onto the plane and secured between the two, and any doubts she had were drowned out by chatter and gaiety.
“Isn’t this wonderful!” one of them cried cheerfully.
Yes, Joan remembers, Wonderful.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Joan McKniff would have continued on to the Peace Corps—young men or no young men—but what I find so remarkable about this and so many of Joan’s stories is that she is so comfortable sharing her own moments of doubt and so joyous in highlighting the benevolence of others.
How can one person be an ambassador of peace?
Is it—I wonder—by comfortably sharing our own moments of doubt and joyously highlighting the benevolence of others.
After the Peace Corps, Joan volunteered with the Red Cross in Vietnam. Later, she became the Deputy Director of the World Bureau of Girl Guides/Girls Scouts in London, and a U.S. Diplomat on three continents, usually as Cultural Attaché where she continued to work with overseas educators and more, even visiting Peace Corps sites with the ambassador. Just as she was planning to retire, she was invited to serve on then candidate Obama’s Foreign Policy Group, and campaigned in the early states, Iowa forward through to the inauguration. Only when Obama became President did she finally start her retirement in Sarasota, FL, which is where I come into the picture.
As a playwright and videographer in Sarasota, I became eager to meet Joan, and the National Peace Corps video contest was my excuse to introduce myself to her. After sitting down with her, I realized the toughest part of my job would be editing the piece to two minutes. Joan has so many wonderfully inspiring stories, and some very funny anecdotes, too. She is full of wisdom, humility and humor. Often simultaneously.
If you happen to bump into her, you must ask her about the time she cooked “fried milk” pancakes for Sargent Shriver, the first Director of the Peace Corps, and you will be sure to get a good laugh.