Two Years That Changed America
A Peace Corps Memoir
Jerry, what was your educational background, and did it help you as a PCV?
My undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison aided me somewhat, as I was a political science major with an emphasis on Latin American Studies. Along with three years of Spanish it gave me at least an understanding of, and foundation for, my Peace Corps experience. However, it did not prepare me for some of the many cultural and personal conditions I was to encounter.
Tell about your Peace Corps experience.
I served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador on a School Construction and Community Development Program. Our group was designated Ecuador V, and served from July of 1963 to July of 1965. I served in three locations, Cangonamá, Catamayo, and Gonzanamá all in the southernmost province of the country, Loja.
I spent most of my time working alone in Catamayo, a small town in a valley in the Andean Mountain range. My primary duty was to facilitate, monitor and improve on the quality, security and efficiency of the construction of new school buildings under the auspices of the Alliance for Progress, a Kennedy Administration initiative. In addition, I was to look for community development opportunities, a big part of my story.
My book, While I Was Out, describes my joys, frustrations and sometimes my day-to-day tedium as I engaged in numerous, sometimes humorous, administrative and logistical battles in our efforts to build schools using rather primitive means in an undeveloped country. The narrative is interspersed with a chronological listing of the events back home. Those events, I believe, planted the seeds that changed the country and led to much of the political and cultural problems we are dealing with today.
Initially, I had included an addendum to the book describing my take on that subject, but an editor wisely suggested it really belongs in another book.
What have you done since the Peace Corps?
I have had somewhat of a “checkerboard career” following the Peace Corps experience. I’m retired now, but my re-entry into the U.S and what followed in my career was, in part, what prompted me to write my book.
I came back, got married and entered grad school to obtain a Masters’ Degree in Public Administration. It was rough reentering the world of academia after two years in a much different setting and pace. The world had changed “While I Was Out.”
I’d left the country a ’50s child of the Eisenhower years and reentered the start of the turbulent ’60s. Viet Nam protests, the Free Speech Movement, student protests, civil rights demonstrations, civil rights legislation, The War on Poverty, assassinations of major political leaders, Bloody Sunday, and cultural changing Supreme Court decisions had all come to pass during my time in Ecuador.
Included in all that were major changes in dress codes, and . . . the music world. Rock ‘n Roll and Elvis were things of the past. Beatlemania was all the rage. Conditions burst my patriotic bubble, and I was glad to get my degree and be out of the University scene.
I spent a year and a half in the insurance industry, three and half years, as a manager at an AT&T subsidiary, and then sixteen years in training and human resources in a major Chicago bank. I finally found my groove in organization development, corporate career planning and change management (changing the organization rather than the world) in the outplacement industry.
When did you begin writing you book?
I started writing the book in 2014, but being newly married (2012) and engaged in a lot of international travel, the book lay fallow after a few introductory chapters until Covid-19 came along in 2020. That provided me with time, and a diagnosis of Stage IV prostate cancer provided me with the impetus to get on with it. I spent much of the Summer and Fall of 2020 getting it finished. Then, with the help of my wife and an editor, I spent much of 2021 getting it right, more readable and, hopefully grammatically correct.
What are you doing to promote your book?
I did not write the book with the intention of making a lot of money. I’ll let those “who knew me when” find out about it through email efforts.
Locally, here in Wisconsin, I hope to promote it through a Facebook site of former high school members. The high school and its assistance to me during my Peace Corps years are mentioned prominently. The book also mentions a number of teachers who would be familiar to readers of that site.
I also hope to approach the editor of the local paper to see if there might be some interest as I was featured in it upon my return so many years ago. I will attempt to do a book signing here in my home town if possible.
When we return to our small Florida town, I will approach the local newspaper there to test for any interest in it t. There is an RPCV group at the beaches where we live whom I will also approach.
How would you describe your book in one sentence?
A diary-based narrative of the adventures and emotional highs and lows of a Peace Corps Volunteer engaged in construction of schools and community development efforts in Ecuador 1963-65, containing timely inserts of major political and cultural changes that occurred back in the U. S. that impacted him and the country upon his return and changed the face of the country’s politics for decades.
While I Was Out: Two Years that Changed America: A Peace Corps Memoir
Jerry Redfield (Ecuador 1963-1965)
Peace Corps Writers