As we prepare for the 50 Anniversary of the Peace Corps, we might recall some of the words of wisdom that were spoken in 1986 at the 25th Anniversary of the agency. That conference was  held in the giant tent on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It was the third official conference. The first was at the State Department in 1965; the second at Howard University on the 20th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

The ‘big tent’ conference on the Mall drew 5 to 6 thousand RPCVs to Washington for a warm September weekend. They gathered inside a giant tent shipped to D.C. from California, with an adjacent tent set aside for display booths.

The late David Schickele (Nigeria 1961-63) would write later, “That tent was like the Peace Corps I was part of in 1961-63. It muggy windless flaps said something about heat and hard work and improvisation, its massive nonchalance the perfect protection fro the ideas being hatched beneath it.”

On the opening day, Dough Siglin, who had chaired the RPCV/W conference planning committee, declared, “This is the largest gathering of RPCVs in 25 years. We are 120,000 strong. Increasingly, we’re taking the ideals that the Peace Corps instilled in us and we’re going to every city and town in this country and to towns and villages overseas, wearing the label RPCV. We’re carrying on our work independently, though our own organizations. This conference is a symbol of our work.”

The keynote speaking on that opening Friday was Philippines President Corazon Aquino. RPCVs who had served in the Philippines presented her with a thousand yellow paper cranes, donated by Frank Nolan of the RPCV group, Ploughshares. It was the conference’s symbol of working for peace.

In her remarks, President Corazon Aquino said: “We are striving to promote peace in the cities and in the countryside, using methods the Peace Corps is most familiar with….May I close by commending the activities, objectives and sacrifices made by the Peace Corps. You are fortunate indeed, for peace is a great and worthy cause.”

Indeed we were. Indeed we are.

Part One