Turning outward bound into homeward bound; that’s an unforgettable experience that took place at The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque on Sept. 19, 2023.
Decades in the making, members of the UNM Peace Corps Outward Bound Training 1963 class, known as Colombia VIII, reunited at UNM. Now retired with families and memories, these Peace Corps alumni were able to relive their lives from years ago.
Thanks to the College of University Libraries & Learning Sciences (CULLS), and its archives these former students were able to recollect through old photos of their time training for the Peace Corps at UNM.
“It was such a pleasure seeing the Peace Corps reunion today. I’m impressed that so many people traveled from around the country to be here. It just shows how important the Peace Corps were to everyone’s lives,” University Archivist Portia Vescio said.
Vescio, Graduate Student Amber Lane and Macon McCrossen led the organization of the event, which was started by the late Patricia Wand. Wand, who was also a member of Colombia VIII, sadly passed away in May 2023. Wand was a renowned member of the American Library Association (ALA) and president of the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience.
“This was all Pat. Before Pat passed, she said to me that Portia is great, and that she is doing everything she would,” McCrossen said.
Still maintained by university archives, the black and white stills featured some of the exercises they performed before leaving the country for adventure and learning.
While now, those wishing to participate in the Peace Corps Prep Certificate Program will focus on language acquisition, youth development and the environment, this crew of trainees once found themselves rappelling down Carlisle Gym.
“Everybody’s happy about seeing this. Some people didn’t even know the archives existed,” McCrossen said.
There was construction practice, wood shop, Jeep racing, fire building, hiking and more, all set to prepare UNM students for any surprises. Attendees also shared extra specific memories of weighted, surprise tests in a pool, training for drowning scenarios.
It was also a different time, as members of Colombia VIII had to sign and swear on agreements they were not Soviet spies. They also received condolence cards from connections in Colombia when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
“This is my first time meeting the actual people who trained on UNM’s campus in the 1960s. They were able to share their stories and experiences which make the records come alive in all new ways,” Vescio said.
Each Colombia VIII member had their own experience and story to tell. They ventured in from across the country, to reunite and reminisce.
Marcia Pinkett Heller, who has become visually impaired, came with her son Michael Salaam who searched through the photos for her.
“Her granddaughters and my wife love hearing about it, all her stories, because she experienced something nobody else experienced,” Salaam said.
Ginny and Jon Deason met during this program, and have since been married for 56 years.
“The key to a long marriage is having the same values, I think,” Ginny Deason said.
The class of now 13 is one of many groups which have made a difference in the world, and it would not have been possible for the training gained while at UNM.
UNM offers its Peace Corps Prep Program through the Global Education Office, where volunteers serve for 27 months in one of over 60 different countries. Learn more about it here.
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