Colombia’s First Peace Corps Staff (Part Three)

John Ross Winnie was named an Associate Director in Colombia to head the educational television project scheduled for that nation, the first such activity to be undertaken by the Peace Corps anywhere in the world.

Born in Clear Lake, Iowa, Winnie was named to Phi Beta Kappa at Cornell of Iowa where he graduated in 1936 with a degree in English. In 1941, he obtained the degree Master of Fine Arts at the University of Iowa. His specialty was the theater, and he became director successively of the St. Paul Little Theater, the Belfry Summer Theater at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and the Youngstown Playhouse in Youngstown, Ohio, which included a children’s theater school.

In May, 1943, he enlisted in the Navy, was sent through the Naval School of Photography in Pensacola, Florida, and spent the next two years as an aerial photographer.

In June, 1950, he became an associate professor at the University of Iowa and was placed in charge of the university’s Television Center. In the summer of 1951, he toured Europe as a consultant to the State Department charged with preparing a survey of television activity on the Continent. In 1958, he was sent by the Broadcasting Foundation of America as a consultant to the Ministry of Education in Venezuela. His specific assignment in Caracas was to train personnel for a sustaining educational television operation, a project similar to that which he would perform for the Peace Corps.

Winnie moved from the University of Iowa to the Peace Corps on July 18, 1963. On August 2, he moved into the Peace Corps Office in Bogota.

ON June 30, 1963, the first Volunteers to be sent to Colombia completed their two yers of service. Many of these 60 young men had performed brilliantly in pioneering community development work for the Peace Corps, and a number of them were asked to return overseas as Associate Directors.

Four of them agree to do so.

Of these, two went to Brazil, and one to Honduras, but the fourth Matthew De Forest, went back to Colombia.

Born in New York City, Matt joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1948 when he was 18. That was the year he graduated from St. George High School in Evanston, Illinois. At the same time, he went to work as a truck driver in Chicago. One year, 1959-60, he tried trucking for himself as a contract driver in Crystal Lake, Illinois. But he found he couldn’t make a living at this so he went back to driving the U.S. Welders Supply Company of Chicago.

In June, 1961, at the age of 31 he volunteered for the Peace Corps. Once in Colombia, De Forest was found to have a remarkable qualities of leadership. He was named a Volunteer Leader.



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  • Dr Winnie another great blast from the past. As a member of Colombia 13 ETV Winnie organized our training at WKNME in Albuquerque NM. Being so astute as to making sure 12 Colombian School experts joined us for 1 month. Terrific training & a well researched program in the field to ascertain school outcomes. Two Stanford U professors conducted the 2 year study. Based on positive results ETV had many more PCV groups in Colombia plus expansion to Central America & several African Countries
    Anybody want to see our 16 minute Video?

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