Peace Corps Volunteers to be parade Grand Marshals

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

PEACE CORPS PARADE GRAND MARSHALS — Serving as Grand Marshals in Bridgton’s Fourth of July Parade, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, are these local Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs). Front row: Nancylou Stiles. Middle row, from left: Earl Morse, Joanne Morse and Sally Chappell. Back row: Shirley Hamilton, Henry Hamilton, Ernie Kozun and Jon Chappell. (Ackley Photo)

When President John F. Kennedy announced the formation of the Peace Corps back in March of 1961, it was the spark that ignited a burning desire in many Americans to want to help disadvantaged people all over the world. It changed some of their lives forever.

This year, in honor of the Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary, the Bridgton Lions Club has appointed the organization as its Fourth of July Parade’s Grand Marshal represented by eight Returning Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) from the Lake Region who served in each of the five decades of the Peace Corps’ existence. They are: Earl and Joanne Morse of Waterford, who served in Tanzania from 1964 to 1966; Ron and Kathy Hawkes of Casco, who were in Sierra Leone from 1965 to 1967; Ernie Kozun of Bridgton, who served in Uganda from 1971 to 1972; Jon and Sally Chappell of Bridgton, who were with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone from 1974 to 1976; Henry and Shirley Hamilton of Otisfield, who were in Cameroon from 1987 to 1989 and in Niger from 1992 through 1994; and Nancylou Stiles of Naples, who served in Ecuador in 2000 and 2001. Their Peace Corps experience launched additional international service in the Department of Defense for the Morses and in the United Nations and State Department for the Hamiltons.

“The toughest job we ever loved!”

That’s how many returned Peace Corps volunteers feel about their experiences living and working among ordinary people in developing countries, Sally Chappell said. She said the group meets informally, periodically, to share common experiences and also to strategize about ways to implement the third goal of the Peace Corps — which is helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. The Peace Corps’ first goal is helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, while the second goal is helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.

Sally said Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan in 1960 to serve their country in the cause of peace. After his election, President Kennedy established the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. Since then, over 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries working in the areas of education, health, business development, environment, agriculture and youth development.

Many RPCVs from all over the country will converge on Washington, D.C., in September for a national celebration of the 50th anniversary off the Peace Corps.

Nancylou Stiles joined the Peace Corps later in life than most people.

“It was one of the few good decisions I made in my life,” she said. “I remember when President Kennedy announced it. I wanted to go in, but I was too young — yet, it kept tugging at my heart. Then, I had a family and kids, and I couldn’t do it. I was 57 years old, when I joined the Peace Corps in 2001. I didn’t think an old broad could learn a new language,” she said, flashing her characteristic sunny smile.

“The people of Ecuador are so happy,” Nancylou said. “They are very connected to their religion. They don’t know if they’re going to eat tomorrow, or if their kids will live tomorrow, but they’re so happy inside themselves. They are so willing to share what they have.”

Nancylou said she taught English in Ywhokumpo, Ecuador, which means “mouth of the river.”

“My program was animal husbandry, because I had been living on a farm in Sweden, Maine,” said Nancylou. “A lot of the animals in Ecuador are sick, and they have no refrigeration and they don’t know how to get their animals to produce. I also ran women’s empowerment programs in the community.”

“My only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier in my life,” Nancylou said of her Peace Corps experience. “One of the hardest things was coming back to this country. It made me realize that we, in this country, are so privileged, yet are so ignorant of that. We take so much for granted — it has changed my perspective.”

Joanne Morse was a junior in college, when President Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963.

What prompted Joanne to join the Peace Corps?

“I was a kid out of college,” Joanne said, who served in Tanzania with her husband Earl.

“In college, there was a big Peace Corps presence — it seemed exciting — a valuable thing and a good thing to do,” said Joanne. “The idea of doing something for the nation that wasn’t soldiering, but still an outreach to the rest of the world, was a change of thought that was very appealing. The appreciation for President Kennedy was worldwide — people had a real feeling that he stood for something good in the world.”

Joanne and Earl Morse have been married for 47 years.

“Joanne and I got married, because of the Peace Corps,” Earl Morse said. “I was taking the Peace Corps exam, and I looked across the room and there she was. Eight months later, we got married. The only way the Peace Corps would put people in the same place was if they were married, so it was trial by fire,” said Earl, chuckling aloud. “We were in a different culture, trying to learn a different language, and trying to learn what marriage was all about — and she stuck with me. It worked — the whole thing worked. It was a life-changing experience — it changed everything.”

“He stuck with me, too,” Joanne said.

She said she also learned in the Peace Corps that what you think of as necessities aren’t.

“What you think is necessary isn’t — you know you’re in the Peace Corps, when you have a jar of peanut butter and a roll of toilet paper,” said Joanne.

Jon Chappell said the RPCVs typically meet quarterly.

The Peace Corps’ effect has continued to ripple through the lives of those who served.

“When people committed to these great ideas get together, other great things happen,” Joanne said.

Ernie Kozun said he joined the Peace Corps “right out of college,” having been inspired by President Kennedy’s invitation to serve.

“JFK influenced many young people, at that time,” said Ernie. “I wanted to do something to serve my country, and I ended up going to Uganda in East Africa. We were the first Peace Corps group to do in-country training. I spent a couple of days in Philadelphia getting processed and then shipped out to Uganda. That was a real culture shock. They are beautiful people in Uganda — and they call Uganda ‘the Switzerland of East Africa’ — it’s beautiful country. Idi Amin was dictator — I met him at a state breakfast where he was the guest of honor.”

Ernie said he grew up in cities, so living in the rural areas of southern Uganda was quite a unique experience for him.

“Living in the countryside changed my perspective for the rest of my life — I never lived in the city again,” said Ernie.

He performed community service work at a rehabilitation facility for handicapped individuals.

“We taught them how to make crafts to sell at tourist centers,” he said.

Ernie then made a statement that was echoed by others in the RPCV group.

“They taught me more than I could teach them,” Ernie said of the Ugandan people he came to know and respect.

Nancylou said Henry Hamilton “was instrumental in getting me excited” about joining the Peace Corps. Henry said he was “Bridgton’s UPS man for 10 years.”

“We have the same story as Earl and Joanne,” Henry Hamilton said of his marriage to second wife, Shirley. “It was a contract marriage. At the end of our first year of marriage, I realized I knew my second wife better than my first wife and was closer to her than my first wife. Shirley and I will be celebrating 25 years of marriage, this summer.”

Henry said he turned 18 years old in 1962, but was told “you have to have certain skills to join the Peace Corps.”

“They told me to get those skills and come back,” he said. Having served in an intelligence position for the military, Henry said he was not allowed to serve in the Peace Corps until 20 years after his service ended.

“So, 20 years later, I was single and I applied again,” said Henry. “One of the ladies I went in with was Shirley.” The rest, as they say, is history.

Henry said he has had the wonderful opportunity “of working all over the world.”

“The Peace Corps opened the door,” said Henry.

Jon and Sally Chappell were newlyweds, when they became Peace Corps volunteers — however, Sally said it was Jon who suggested it.

“I didn’t want to go in the Peace Corps — he wanted to,” Sally said.

“I wanted to go in,” said Jon. “More of an influence on me was 1968 and RFK (when Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in June and Martin Luther King Jr. was killed two months before that). I said, ‘There’s got to be a better way’ — so, the Peace Corps sounded good.”

The Chappells served in Sierra Leone, from 1974 through 1976.

“We taught in Freetown, the capitol city,” Jon said. “I taught math in high school and Sally taught in an elementary school. The ironic thing about that was she went in at 7 a.m. and got back around 1 p.m., and I went at 1:30 p.m. and got back at 7 p.m. So, for two people newly married, we saw each other for lunch.”

Yet, Sally doesn’t regret joining the Peace Corps one bit.

“This changed the focus of my life,” she said. “I never intended to go in, but it changed my perspective. It was my first brush observing dire poverty.”

“Neither of us would have done it without the other,” said Jon.

“I agree,” Sally said. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Locally, any RPCVs who would like to meet and share their experiences are invited to call Joanne Morse at 583-6957 or Sally Chappell at 647-8154.

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