More Comments About More on Sarge

miguelito writes:

with all due respect to all thr work done by rpcv/washington, i think
nan gear of pc/washington, lorette ruppe, and dozens of other donors large and small would dispute the cllaim tht the 25th
anniversary had no support other than the local returnees. simply
not true!!! if you’d like a copy of the final accounting of funds and
expenditures, please refer to the 25th memorial reoprt…

There is a comment by someone named ‘miguelito’ on my blog yesterday, replying to my item: “More from Mark Shriver’s book about his Dad”

He/She was objecting to my remark, “This was the famous reunion organized by the Returned Volunteer of Washington, not by any national group of RPCVs, nor by the Peace Corps agency. The Peace Corps, as we know, never organizes anything for RPCVs.”

‘miguelito’ might not know the full history, and with the passing of time we have all forgotten key elements of that weekend. From what I recall, and from others who were involved (on the RPCV/W side) have told me, the Peace Corps HQ was concerned in the spring of 1985–when RPCV/W first met to plan the September union–that the  RPCVs gathering in DC within sight of the White House and Republican Ronald Reagan might cause trouble for the Peace Corps Agency. I am not sure why HQ were so worried as PCVs and RPCVs are as liberal and conservative as the nation, always have been. Some RPCVs actually liked Reagan!

The truth is that regardless of who is in the White House, Peace Corps Administration always gets edgy when too many RPCVs are around.

Loret Miller Ruppe, who was a very nice woman, and her HQ staff, were scared of what RPCVs   might do. As Roger Landrum, the president of RPCV/W said under the tent that weekend, “We wanted to have this national anniversary conference in Washington to bring as many alumni together as possible. We told the Peace Corps that we were going to have some fun but we were not going to burn down the White House.”

Ruppe and the Peace Corps did not support the reunion and,  at first, RPCV/W didn’t have the funds to pull off a gathering. Then, by chance, Harris Wofford, one of the original organizers of the Peace Corps,  met an executive of the MacArthur Foundation in a cab ride in from National Airport, and told him about the situation, how Ruppe and the Peace Corps Gang, won’t support a reunion of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Several weeks later a check for $25,000 arrived at the the mailbox of RPCV/W. It came from the MacArthur Foundation and the RPCVs of Washington, D.C. were in business. Take that, Peace Corps!

In his final report on the goals of the Coalition that organized the event, Roger Landrum writes, “The Peace Corps had been initially resistant to the idea of a Washington gathering, but eventually provided very substantial agency resources.” He goes on, “The working group, with remarkable ingenuity and imagination, established the framework for the conference events. But our grand plans were still in constant danger of collapsing until March 1986, when the MacArthur Foundation, at the request of its board member Jerome Wiesner, provided the breakthrough by giving the coalition a grant of $25,000. (i.e. the Wofford cab-ride-connection.)

The Coalition later got $15,000 from the Public Welfare Foundation and $10,000 from the World Bank. Roger, who had created his own volunteer organization, Youth Service America, provided office space.

The Peace Corps, as you can see, didn’t even give the Coalition space at HQ to organize the reunion. Talk about cooperation! However, the Peace Corps did mail out invitations to its list of 40,000 former volunteers and staff.

The Coalition for the 25th Anniversary, by the way, were: RPCV/Washington; National Council of RPCVs; The Peace Corps Institute; and Citizen’s Committee on Future Directors for the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps Agency was not part of that Coalition.

One other note. Ruppe decided to publish a book about the Peace Corps in time to sell at the conference. It was entitled Making A Difference: The Peace Corps at Twenty-Five. It had a forward, of course, by Ronald Reagan, and was a collection of essays by all sorts of people from Sarge to Wofford, to Parker W. Borg, who is listed as deputy director of the Department of State’s Office for Counter-Terrorism and a former United States ambassador to Mali. The book was edited by Milton Viorst. The agency didn’t ask RPCV Writers for their prose, though Theroux, of course, is in the collection, a short op-ed he had published previously in the New York Times. Milton Viorst was paid to edit the book, but none of the writers received any money, which was a good thing.

The book of essays was published by the now defuncted publishing house of Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 25,000 hardback copies were printed and I was told a few years later by an editor who was at the publishing house at the time that nearly the entire printing was remaindered. No copies were sold for $16.95. I have a copy. I bought it at a garage sale for .25 cents.

Ruppe’s change of heart and her help for the Anniversary Conference got her into trouble from the IG’s office for spending money for the event. That’s the way our government works, and why the agency doesn’t do anything for the Third Goal of the Peace Corps.

Nevertheless, the 25th Anniversary Conference generated more front page press across the country than any other ‘Peace Corps’ news event, and produced some memorable speeches by Shriver, Moyers, Senator Edward Kennedy, Corazon Aquino and others.

That Conference, however, did not generate as must press for the Peace Corps as the twenty-four-hours of recollections read by RPCVs and staged by  Tim Carroll (Nigeria 1963-65), then the executive director of the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCRPCV) now the NPCA,  in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capital on the anniversary of JFK’s assassination.

That, too, didn’t cost the Peace Corps anything nor were they involved in planning or hosting the event, though Tim Carroll did let Loret Ruppe speak in the Rotunda and later at the memorial Mass held in St. Matthews Cathedral where Kennedy’s funeral Mass was held. Tim’s a nice guy.

See, even if PC/Washington isn’t cooperative, RPCVs are generous, non-political, and accommodating. We’ll let anyone have their say, even the Staff!

“This was the famous reunion organized by the Returned Volunteer of Washington, not by any national group of RPCVs, nor by the Peace Corps agency. The Peace Corps, as we know, never organizes anything for RPCVs.


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  • I recall that there was a fine, supportive essay by John Dellenbach ( PC Director 1975-77) in the 25th anniversary book. I fear that the book’s painful demise through remaindering is not atypical of most Peace Corps book’s commercial destiny.

    For Lorenzo: Unfortunately some of us were already middle-aged by 1985!

  • Just as the Peace Corps once had a library and from one day to next it disappeared without explanation, we should never trust the agency to safeguard its own family albums, commerically published or not. The safest way to ensure their survival is to buy 2 copies of each and every Peace Corps book available, keep one on our own booksehelf and donate the other to the library of our choice (presumedly not a Peace Corps Library).

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