In 1962 Father Hesburgh, President of Notre Dame University, went to Chile to visit the Volunteers who had trained at Notre Dame. One of them was Tom Scanlon, a recent ND graduate. Tom told Father Hesburgh a story about his job so far as a PCV. Hesburgh would write a letter to Sarge Shriver, a good friend, and tell Sarge what Scanlon said. Shriver would write Hesburgh back and say, “I am delighted to hear it….In fact, all the people here at Peace Corps Headquarters liked it so much we’re using it as the opening section of our presentation to the United States Congress.” Shriver also would pass on what Father Hesburgh told him to his brother-in-law, John F. Kennedy.
In the early days of the Peace Corps, President Kennedy greeted the first Peace Corps Trainees on the White House lawn and even invited the first Volunteers to Colombia into the White House. Then on June 20, 1962, when Kennedy was welcoming to Washington Summer College Interns — not PCVs — he delivered this short story about a PCV serving in Chile.
Recently I heard a story of a young Peace Corpsman named Tom Scanlon, who is working in Chile. He works in a village about forty miles from an Indian village which prides itself on being Communist. The village is up a long, winding road which Scanlon has taken on many occasions to see the chief. Each time the chief avoided seeing him. Finally he saw him and said, “You are not going to talk us out of being Communists.” Scanlon said, “I am not trying to do that, only to talk to you about how I can help.” The chief looked at him and replied, “In a few weeks the snow will come. Then you will have to park your jeep twenty miles from here and come through five feet of snow on foot. The Communists are willing to do that. Are you?” When a friend [Father Theodore Hesburgh] saw Scanlon recently and asked him what he was doing, he said, “I am waiting for the snow.”
In those first years of the Peace Corps, “Waiting for Snow” became something of a Peace Corps legend as well as a slogan.
After his Chile tour, Scanlon would return to graduate school, this time in the Latin American Studies program at Columbia University. He was studying in Butler Library on the day that Kennedy was assassinated. The next day he received a call from Padraic Kennedy, Chief of the Division of Volunteer Field Support, at Peace Corps Headquarters. The agency had decided that two RPCVs — rather than officials — should represent the Peace Corps at the President’s funeral. Scanlon and Brenda Brown (Philippines 1961-63) were chosen for this sad honor. They would sit in the nave of St. Matthew’s Cathedral with Col. John Glenn and his wife, Annie, who were representing the space program, and then rode and walk with them to the hill in Arlington Cemetery where the eternal flame burns now.
After receiving two degrees from Columbia and Toronto, Tom moved to Washington, D.C. in 1965, and took a variety of government and consulting work, all focused on Latin America, until he started his own consulting company, Benchmarks. which Tom writes, “gives me the same kinds of freedom and requires the same kinds of ingenuity as the Peace Corps.”
Only in the mid-nineties did Tom turn to write his “Peace Corps Memoir,” entitled, naturally, Waiting for Snow.
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