60 years later: UNM hosts Peace Corps reunion


Colombia VIII


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.

Watch the Video here




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  • What a wonderful reunion. I was a member of Colombia XI, all women and we were four weeks behind Colombia VIII. We, too, did Outward Bound Training at UNM. We, too, did CD training in Northern New Mexico. We would have loved to have been a part of this reunion.

  • It was, as Macon says, all organized by Patricia Wand, a wonderful RPCV holding together the history of the agency. We are sorry she is no longer with us.

  • Pat Wand and I were good friends. I, too, mourned the sudden passing of Pat Wand.

    Bob Klein and Pat asked me to join them in December of 2011 to begin to create a Peace Corps Archives. I agreed. The American Unversity Peace Corps Community Archives was the result. When Bob died in the Spring of 2012, I introduced Pat to Bob Kleins friend and partner, RPCV Phyllis Noble who resumed Bob’s work with the Oral History Project.

    I have the greatest adminiration for Pat Wand. I also have cited the Peace Corps Archives at the University of New Mexico as one of the best organized and caatalogued records of all the various Peace Corps Archives. The Training Documents for Colombia XI are clearly included in their catalogue. The title of the reunion was UNM Peace Corps Outward Bound Training 1963.

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