So what was it like? In the human-sized parcel of 50 years of Peace Corps service, it was hope and making history, and it was, sometimes at least, an exercise in futility. These volunteers set out to change the world and, more often than not, found themselves transformed: learning so much more than they could ever teach, receiving so much more than they could possibly give—which is not to diminish the teaching, the giving.
Since the creation of the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 340 Santa Clara alumni have served in some 80 countries. At times, the number of Santa Clara grads heeding the call has put SCU in the top 10 for Peace Corps schools of its size. This year, 10 alumni serve in eight countries, including Azerbaijan, Honduras, and Tanzania.
Who are these intrepid vols? Across the years and across the continents, they’ve included the likes of Ken Flanagan ’63 (Colombia 1964–66) and Brian Boitano ’03 (Benin 2004–06). Before Heidi von der Mehden ’97 became winemaker at Arrowood winery, she served in Tanzania (1997–99); and ere Gina Pastega Smith ’96, MBA ’00 put her business savvy to work running Romano’s Italian Soda Co. in Oregon, she took that acumen to Ecuador (2003–05). Korea called Margot Diltz ’66 (1968–71) and Costa Rica summoned Mary Barros-Bailey ’84 (1984–87). Larry Jenkins ’71 put his shoulders and civil engineering know-how to the wheel in Ghana (1971–73), and Bryan Bjorndal ’76 used his training in biology in the Philippines (1976–77) and now heads a company, Assure Controls, focused on water quality. After serving in Malawi (1965–67), Bill Luke Jr. ’65 went on to work with Catholic Relief Services in Sierra Leone.
Who else? Julia Yaffee is senior assistant dean for External Affairs at SCU’s School of Law, but from 1973–75 she was in Malaysia, training media professionals from 23 countries in broadcast media; her husband provided training in computerized accounting, and their children (ages 4 and 5) were in school. Malaysia also drew librarian Gail Gradowski (1974–76), and business development in Fiji helped shape Nick Mirkovich (2006–08), assistant media relations director for SCU Athletics and Recreation.
There’s so much more to tell than fits into the snapshots that follow. The experience was, for many vols, one of the best—or, at the very least, the most intense—time of a life. Roam across the map below to discover a few stories in vols’ own words.
The Peace Corps Act was approved on Sept. 22, 1961.
|Read a transcript of Eunice Shriver’s 1962 commencement address to Santa Clara University grads about the Peace Corps.
See a slideshow of items brought back by Peace Corps volunteers.