My Peace Corps Reflections

You might say I was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers, even though I just missed being counted among the first 1000.  I served in Venezuela as part of an agricultural extension project, during the period 1962-64.  As a Volunteer Leader, I supervised 19 Volunteers at 13 sites throughout six states.  The project’s main purpose was to develop 4-H Clubs (called 5-V in Venezuela), and provide the youth with techniques in agriculture and home economics.

Prior to our departure from Washington, D.C., where some of our training took place, President Kennedy and Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver spoke to our group.  I have a great photo of the two of them coming down the aisle.  This was, of course, a special occasion, as both men provided the inspiration and leadership to get the Peace Corps off  to a good start.  (I believe Hubert Humphrey had the idea, initially, however).

My most emotional moment in Venezuela was the day President Kennedy was shot.  We were at a goat barbecue in a remote village.  This was a celebration of some sort, attended by a large gathering of 100 Venezuelans, and just a few Volunteers.  There was a lot of dancing, with the music provided by a short-wave radio.  Had we not had that radio we would not have heard the announcement about the shooting in Dallas.  As soon as that came over the air, the party stopped, tears flowed, and everyone went home.  There was no question the Venezuelans felt the same sorrow we did.  It’s amazing how in-tune very rural people are to world events.

While I was deferred from the military during my Peace Corps service, I don’t like to think I joined for that reason -- being the service-oriented person I am.  Ha!  The draft did catch up with me a few years later when I was getting started in my banking career.  I was prepared to do my time, but President Johnson decided to take the younger draftees, so I continued my career path in agribusiness and banking.

Over the years, since my days in the Peace Corps, I’ve been privileged work in both the United States and abroad.  My travels have taken me to more than 85 countries, primarily in the developing areas of Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.  My work, coupled with occasional volunteer assignments (Russia, Ukraine and Zimbabwe), has given me the chance to help others, mainly on matters pertaining to agricultural production, marketing, management and finance.

The Peace Corps’ “Spirit of Service” has prevailed in my life and my career.  Happily, that spirit never seems to go away.  I’m glad I was one of the first to sign up for the Peace Corps and to be one of its first pioneers. It’s hard to believe that nearly 50 years have passed since my two years of memorable Peace Corps service in Venezuela.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.