sarge-col1This is the very first photograph of Sarge Shriver meeting the very first Peace Corps Trainees. It happened on Sunday, June 25, 1961, at Rutgers University.  The photograph, and details surrounding it, were sent to me recently by Dennis Grubb who was one of those legendary first Colombia I Volunteers, 1961-63.

The word from Dennis:

I received a telegram and was told to call the White House switchboard. They passed me onto the Peace Corps HQ in the Maiatico Building and I was invited to Training in New Jersey. I drove down to Rutgers from Connecticut, and since my home was only a couple hours away, I think I might be the very first person to arrive for training for the Peace Corps.”

Shriver came up from D.C. to New Jersey on Sunday, Jun2 25, 1961, to meet the potential PCV. “I think,” says Dennis, “Sarge just wanted to see us, to see what the Peace Corps was catching as potential Volunteers.

There were 80 Trainees at Rutgers–62 would make it overseas.  There were six Korean War Vets, six Hispanics, one African-American, three guys who had just turned twenty, one of whom was Grubb who hadn’t yet finished college. The oldest was 36; he is now 85. Most of the Trainees were middle class and they came with a variety of skills. There were future farmers of America, boy scouts, a telephone lineman, some BAs, others were civil engineers. They were, in fact, the first community development volunteers in the Peace Corps, all men. (How times have changed. Today, approximately 64% of all PCVs are women.)

At the time, community development was based on a program at Southern Illinois University run by a Professor Dick Poston, who had written several books on the subjects based on the University’s work in rural Southern Illinois and the slums of East St. Louis.

Finishing Training in September, the Colombia Volunteers were sworn in and went to a reception at the White House to meet President Kennedy. Standing in a semi-circle, JFK came into the room and walked around the group, shaking hands with everyone, saying to them all, “I’m Jack Kennedy.” He wished them well, and told them, “We don’t know how this will turn out. It’s success rests with you….and if you have any problems write Sarge not me…God speed!”

As Dennis says today, “No one forgets a moment like that.”

And that “moment’ too has been immortalized in another way. If you’ve seen the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, where Tom Hanks meets JFK in the White House, well, that brief film footage is actually President Kennedy meeting the Colombia I PCVs!