John Johnck ’60

John Johnck ’60
John Johnck exploring trails near the Amazon River, Iquitos, Peru

Retired businessman and former chair of the San Francisco Republican Party

Peru 1964-67

When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was at work as a back office assistant at the stock broker Reynolds & Co. in San Francisco. I heard the news and recalled his famous line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” So, at the age of 26, I filled in the Peace Corps application and was accepted to join a university education program as a math teacher targeted for Peru. But there the Peace Corps was pegged as an arm of the Central Intelligence Agency, especially on college campuses. We were met with sit-ins, graffiti, and protests. My teachers college assignment collapsed.

In Lima I met some fellow volunteers who were auditors for the Peruvian National Association of Credit Unions. They introduced me to the association president, who asked me to help. Credit unions played an important role in Peru, because banks only catered to the upper classes, professionals, and government employees; 98 percent of the country had limited access to banking. Churches, unions, agricultural workers, and farmers turned to credit unions.

I performed audits of credit unions all over Peru. A third were so poorly run that I recommended they be shut down. I traveled with my sleeping bag and slept wherever I could—sometimes in a priest’s rectory, on a credit union office couch, or in other Peace Corps volunteers’ rooms.

My most interesting audit was for six months in Iquitos, at the headwaters of the Amazon River. The second-biggest credit union in Peru, with 5,000 members and a $5 million capitalization, it was founded by a Spanish missionary 15 years prior; he was still on the board of directors and served as treasurer. But small loans were made out the back door by the padre, with the credit committee only told weeks later. He was not pleased that I was assigned to stay and implement the audit: tightening lending policies; raising rates on loans and dividends; writing off uncollectable debts. The padre was demoted.

That credit union in Iquitos is still in existence, despite the efforts of the leftist government that took over Peru to close it down in the 1970s. This is an “AMDG” outcome that gladdens the heart of an old alum of Santa Clara.

I really loved my term of service in Peru. It was ennobling and enabling—and humbling. It’s really a transformational experience for anybody who goes into it.

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