Mad Man # 6–The Wisconsin Plan

Following Sarge’s ‘T’riffic!’ and approval for the new recruitment campaign, Gale went up to his rabbit warren of rooms and started to call everyone he knew at the University of Wisconsin. “They were all old pals of mine, and they were going ape over the phone about my plans for the Peace Corps at the university.

But it wasn’t an easy job of recruitment. In 1963, the campus covered nine hundred acres on the shores of Lake Mendota. There were over 17,000 undergraduates, another 7,000 grad students.

Gale realized early on that he (and the Peace Corps) had to see the recruitment trip as a presidential campaign. There were two of them, Doug Kiker and Bob Gale, assigned by Sarge to do the first campaign–neither of them knew each other at HQ, both were new to the Peace Corps. They couldn’t do it all, so Gale decided on a second team to arrive in Wisconsin a week after them.

The “Wisconsin Plan” immediately became a two-week recruitment trip.

By midweek in this ‘advance’ week, Gale got hold of a highly guarded mailing list of all graduate students at Wisconsin, numbering nearly 7,000, which included medical and law students. It was a rich list of highly skilled people, just what the Peace Corps wanted. Gale called D.C. and asked them to send out a special mailing to these students by Friday so that they would get a letter on Monday, just as the follow-up team rolled into town.

Washington said no. It couldn’t be done. A dozen reasons why it couldn’t be done by D.C. were given. (All of this in the days before the Internet, remember!)

Gale told Kiker, ‘We’ve got to do it ourselves.”


Gale told Kiker. “Write a press release saying that Peace Corps service is like another year or two of graduate school, and it is all free. List all the ‘Peace Corps stars’ who will be on campus next week.”

The letter was written, then 8 volunteer students gathered in the Student Union, (arranged by one of Gale’s pals at the University) who worked for twenty straight hours, stuffing envelopes and then stamping them with a “Peace Corps, Washington, D.C. stamp that Gale had ‘borrowed’ from HQ. ‘

Is this legal, Kiker wanted to know.

“Sure, why not?” Gale answered, having no idea whether it was legal or not. 

All of this caper is outlined in Come As You Are:

Following that wild week on campus making arrangements with professors, the media, and the administration, Gale and Kiker drove to the airport in Madison on Sunday evening and met the follow up team for Stage II of the Wisconsin Plan. They took the arrivals to their motel for a briefing, handing them their speaking and interview schedules for the week, giving them a map of the campus and a list of names they must memorize that very night. Then they flew back to D.C.

It was a simple politicial campaign. The Advance Team, then the follow-up team. For this first ‘blitz’ campaign the follow-up team was John D. Rockefeller IV; Padraic Kennedy; and Ted Sorensen’s first wife, Camilla. ( Camilla married next Louis Hanson, and aide to the governor of Wisconsin, and to become a Regent of the University of Wisconsin.)  Also on the team was Ellen Kennedy, Padraic’s wife, who had been a grad school in French at Madison three years earlier. She ‘worked’ the senior and graduate French classes. According to Coates Redmon, “The Wisconsin French majors were bowled over by the sight and the sound of a young, curly headed blond woman by the name of Mrs. Kennedy describing Peace Corps programs in French-speaking Africa–in fluent French.” 

“The aim,” Gale is quoted in Gerard T. Rice’s book, The Bold Experiment, ” was to raise all kinds of hell without being idiotic.”

Literature was handed out in bulk, classes were interrupted for Peace Corps seminars, a colorful information booth was set up in the middle of campus, and every senior student was openly solicited as a potential recruit. The three of them were written up in the campus Newspaper, the Daily Cardinal, they were on WIBA Radio, interviewed nightly while in Madison by WIBA famous disc jockey, Papa Hambone, the pseudonym of George Vukelich, who taught creative writing at the university.

Gale’s blitz campaign was forceful and aggressive, the opposite of Babbitt’s. It was also immediately effective. After one week, 426 Wisconsin students had applied for the Peace Corps, approximately 10 percent of the senior class.

p.s. Oh, one small detail. Since a few of the envelopes sent to the Wisconsin graduate students were misaddressed, they landed back at Peace Corps HQ. Howard Greenberg, the Associate Director for the Office of Management, saw then and realized what Gale had done. When Gale returned to D.C. Greenberg told Gale that he could have gotten five years in prison for every illegally franked envelope. Given seven thousand envelopes, that came to thirty-five thousand years in prison. Gale, however, got away free, and was ready for the next senior staff meeting with Shriver and the Mad Men & Mad Women of Peace Corps/Washington.

 [End of # 6]


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  • Another member of that initial University of Wisconsin at Madison team with Gale and Kiker, serving on both the advance and the follow-up, was a young guy in the Selection Division sent by Frank Erwin to administer the test so that the selection process could actually be underway instanteously before the recruiting ended. It wasn’t long before that young guy moved with Gale and Erwin to become the first college recruiting coordinator under their direction. No experience could have prepared that young guy better for a “can do” career that followed and continues today. I know because that was me.

  • Another great episode in the saga! I’m sure Bob and Barbara Gale will be at the next PC Staff Reunion to celebrate the 50th, on September 23, 2011 in Washington.

    Looking forward to #7!

    Way to go, Tom Gee!!!


  • Sadly, Barbara Gale passed away two months ago, but I’m sure her spirit will be around for any and all celebrations.

    So that was your job Tom? I was trying to recall how I became involved with the recruiting group in February, 1964. Halcyon days!

  • Yes, Michael, that was me. I vividly remember you and Georgie Shine (I understand she was at the service for Barbara in DC and didn’t look a day older) were the first RPCVs to join us.

    What have you been up to since then?!

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