Santa Clara Magazine

For the Alumni and Friends of Santa Clara University

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Peace Corps

From left to right: Mary Hegland overlooking Mahabad, Iran, 1968; women walking to market in Ghana, 1972—photographed by Larry Jenkins ’71; Peter Ross with his 8th grade class and fellow teacher Rashid Ali, Hyderabad Public School, India, 1964.

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.

Peace Corps
Peace Corps
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.

Visit the Peace Corps 50th anniversary commemoration website.


Click on a place-mark to read the volunteer's story


  1. Kevin Byrne, '72, Studio Art
    October 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    So much to click, where does one being to comment? Renee Billingslea, I suppose: I recall flying over Kiribati in July of 2008 on my way back from Sydney, at night. Now I know something about what happens below. Thx., Ms. Billingslea! KB

  2. Roanld W. Noya, Brazil "68
    October 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Reading the stories of the volunteers underscored the common theme voiced by many returned volunteers that it was a transformational experience. My group were all community development volunteers meaning we had no specific job to fill other than the passion to help in whatever way we could - usually by trying to organize the poor around a literacy, agriculture co-op or health campaign. Trying to be an agent for social change may seem like a naïve conceit -- and perhaps it was. Even so. similar to the comment of Ms. Billingslea, my goal was to make a difference in the lives of five people. I think I succeeded. But, there is no doubt that at least 50 people made a difference in mine.
      Community organization was suspect under the military dictatorship. But, many of us took inspiration from Dom Helder Camera, the Catholic Bishop in the State of Recife, who famously stated: If I give to the poor, they call me saint; if I ask why there are poor, they call me a communist. For me, his point summarized the lesson learned from the Peace Corp experience: There can never really be peace and progress without social justice.