ANDERSON, Ind. —
More than 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries in the past 50 years. President John F. Kennedy officially created Peace Corps in March 1961 with an executive order with the first group of 51 volunteers leaving to serve as teachers in Ghana that August.
Throughout those years, dozens if not hundreds of volunteers have come from Madison County including these four Anderson residents.
Here is just a sampling of their experiences and a reflection on what their service meant to them in their own words.
Ervin and Lois Rockhill
Turkey, 1965 to 1967
Ervin and Lois Rockhill married on a Saturday and the following Friday the newlywed couple left for Peace Corps training in Oregon. A month later they were serving as Peace Corps volunteers in Turkey.
The couple met at Anderson College where they quickly fell in love and decided to marry. For Lois, the Peace Corps was filling a void — with graduation and degrees in sociology and social work upcoming, she had no idea what she wanted to do. An Anderson College alumnus had spoken to students about the Peace Corps. That would be her next step, she decided. This was all before Ervin was part of the picture.
“I probably wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for Lois,” Ervin Rockhill said jokingly. “It wasn’t anything that had ever occurred to me. She’d applied and been accepted before we even started dating.”
But he said he wouldn’t change the experience for anything.
“It certainly opened up my eyes to a bigger world,” he said. “My understanding that there are other cultures with a lot of richness that I would not have been aware of without the experience. I’m sure I’m more receptive to difference among people and cultures, more tolerant of different ways of living and points of view. I have more of a world view of things as opposed to a parochial view.”
The two worked for a year in eastern Turkey in a small village — Tekyol Koy, which literally means single road. They did a bit of earthquake relief after the country suffered a large earthquake and then moved to Erzurum where they worked at a university with library staff.
“We used to laugh, here we are — very, very young at the time, new graduates out of Anderson College in our early 20s — and we are to determine the needs of village people that have lived there thousands of years and make changes,” Lois Rockhill said. “What we did was learn about a group of people, and they learned about us. We were so very, very different. It was a fantastic opportunity to share who we were with each other. We also learned that in so many ways we were the same.”
The Rockhills spent most their time in the village — which is what Lois recalls most vividly — on helping the villagers improve their diets by raising rabbits and chickens.
“When I look back on it, the experience wasn’t what I thought it was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to go in and make a huge difference in some kind of important way. The difference was in our lives and in the people we came into contact with.”
The idea of joining the Peace Corps’ Rapid Response Corps for returned volunteers is something the two are considering after retirement. They would “definitely” recommend service to those interested.