Happy 50th, Peace Corps!

Conceived during the 1960 presidential election campaign by then-candidate John F. Kennedy and a team of his supporters, the Peace Corps made its debut after Kennedy took office in 1961.

Sargent Shriver (AP Photo)The president’s brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, who played a key role in orchestrating the Peace Corps program, became its first director.

Shriver died in January 2011 as the Peace Corps began celebrating its 50th anniversary. His online Guest Book received hundreds of messages paying tribute to the work he did.

Many Peace Corps volunteers have died this year. Here are some of the more recent ones:

Eugene J. Schreiber, who died July 20, 2011, served in Tanzania as a member of the United States’ first contingent of Peace Corps volunteers to be sent overseas, according to the obit published in the Times-Picayune. He went on to work for 32 years as managing director of the World Trade Center of New Orleans.

Annie Bernicie Crush Simpson, who died July 5, 2011, at age 93, joined the Peace Corps after retiring as executive director of the Rooftop of Virginia Community Action Program and serving on the boards of many nonprofit organizations.

According to the obit in the News and Advance of Lynchburg, Virginia:

She was assigned to the lovely island of Grenada, where she made many wonderful friends. After her time on the 'Isle of Spice,’ she realized that winters in Virginia were no longer appealing, so she returned there each winter for about 20 years. While in Grenada she continued to volunteer and belonged to several bridge clubs.

Marco Tulio Fonseca, a University of Georgia extension horticulturist who was born into extreme poverty in the middle of a Honduras banana plantation, went back to Honduras after going to college in the United States. The obit for Fonseca, who died July 13 at age 64, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution said:

Through the Peace Corps, he met his wife and spent many years working with volunteers in Honduras. Also, he worked several years with Honduras Outreach promoting sustainable agriculture in rural areas.

Dottie Davis Selby of Edgewood, Washington, who died July 13, 2011, served in the Peace Corps and lived in Tunis, Tunisia, from 1969-1971, according to the obit in the Tacoma News Tribune. She “worked in the library of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Tunis where she became fluent in French and a Francophile,” the obit said. She later became a librarian for the Puyallup School District.

John M. Buddenhagen, a retired immigration inspector who died July 23 at age 69, served two years in the Peace Corps in Panama, where he did community development work and mastered Spanish. According to the obit published in the Anchorage Daily News, Buddenhagen worked for the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Services in California, New Mexico, Texas and Alaska.

Mary Evelyn Gliessman-Tellez, who died June 27 in Porterville, California, joined the Peace Corps in 1971, but she did not do it alone. She, her first husband Lester Gliessman, and their “then 15-year-old son Eric went into the Peace Corps in Kenya, where Mary taught art at the Kenyan Government Health Education Unit. On their second tour of duty Lester passed away and she came back to Santa Barbara, CA,” according to the obit in the Porterville Recorder.

Thomas G. Hays, of Norristown, Pennsylvania, who died June 10 at age 80, served in the Peace Corps as an industrial arts teacher in Malaysia, according to the obit in Suburban Trends/NorthJersey.com.


This post was contributed by Alana Baranick, a freelance obituary writer who lives in Northeast Ohio. She is director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers and chief author of Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers.