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Death of Sargent Shriver brings back Peace Corps memories for rural Worthington couple

Friday, January 21, 2011

John and Peggy Davis of Worthington joined the Peace Corps in 1962. They were assigned to Gondar, Ethiopia, and John taught history and agriculture and Peggy taught home economics.
(Contributed photo)
When John Davis of Worthington recently heard of the death of Sargent Shriver, he said many memories flooded his mind.

In 1962, shortly after Davis and his wife, Peggy, were married, they both joined the Peace Corps (PC). At that time, Shriver was its first director overseeing 200,000 volunteers.

"It was a time of golden summer days of youth," noted Davis. "We were young, idealistic, adventurous, and a little bit crazy. The only thing that is different now is that we're not young anymore."

Peggy Davis is pictured
(third from left) with some of her students.(Contributed photo)
Peggy and John met while both were attending Harding University in Arkansas. Peggy later transferred to Indiana State University. They both were the first students from their respective college to volunteer for the Peace Corps.

To prepare for the organization, the couple had to attend an eight-week training course at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While there, they underwent vigorous physical training and hours of academic studies including history, anthropology, psychology, and language. Along with studies, Davis said they had many interesting experiences.

"We practiced on the same field as the Washington Redskins." Davis said. "They (the Redskins) watched us exercise one day and weren't impressed. The next day there was an article in a Washington newspaper making fun of us saying that we were not very well represented."

Davis said the PC volunteers answered by saying the Redskins shouldn't brag as they weren't having a very good season that year.

To prove their fitness, the PC members challenged them to a three-mile run and a rope climb. However, the Redskins declined the offer.

Also while in Georgetown, Davis said the group visited Sargent Shriver's estate and also the White House where they met President John F. Kennedy. In his remarks, Kennedy told the new members of the PC that they were doing what he had asked in his inaugural speech when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country."

Peggy and John's overseas assignment was teaching high school in Gondar, Ethiopia. John taught history and agriculture and Peggy taught home economics. While there, he said the high school enrollments doubled. One third of the teachers were Peace Corps volunteers, one third were Indian, and one third were Ethiopian.

"We received the same pay that the job paid in that country," Davis said, "which was $100 a month. We had a house, two monkeys, and a pig that we butchered before we left. We also had a full-time maid and a gardener."

John noted that one of the highlights of their assignment in Ethiopia was the summer he and Peggy climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and one of the saddest days while in Africa was in November 1963 when they learned that President John F. Kennedy had been killed.

"President Kennedy gave us a going away speech, but, sadly, he couldn't welcome us home," noted Davis.

Before they returned to the states, John and Peggy toured the Nile on a riverboat. Then they went on to India and boarded an Indian ship and traveled to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka) Singapore, and Japan.

On their return home, they stopped in Hawaii, and for the first time in two years saw an American flag.

"I was never so glad to see the American flag in my life," he said. "The first thing we did was go to a Dairy Queen and get a banana split."

Davis said he would encourage anyone who wants adventure and who has a teaching degree to join the Peace Corps.

"It changes your life," he noted. "It broadens your life and gives you confidence to do whatever you want to do.

"In a very real sense, we (Peace Corps) took America to the world with a good face, and when we returned, we brought the world back to America."

Upon returning to the states, John and Peggy settled in Worthington for five years. With adventure beckoning, they then moved to Alaska and taught Eskimos for 18 years. They are now living in Worthington where John farms and Peggy works for Purdue Extension services.

Always following his dreams, John has spent one year at the National Science Foundation at the South Pole and tackled Mount Kilimanjaro the second time with his daughter who was a missionary in Uganda.

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John, it appears that you have had quite the life. I applaud you! But, what happened to the two monkeys? Did you eat them also?

-- Posted by rick anderson on Fri, Jan 21, 2011, at 3:13 PM

Growing up as neighbor to John and Peggy out in Smith Township, I remember them telling of their experiences to my Mom and Dad. John had a giant reel to reel tape player. (It looked so big then) He would "hook it up" and play the music they had recoreded as Mom And Dad visited with them.

-- Posted by gary g on Fri, Jan 21, 2011, at 5:03 PM

What a great article. Thank you for sharing with us.

Have you thought of writing a book?

-- Posted by Sue62 on Sat, Jan 22, 2011, at 7:19 AM

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