Sixty years ago, President Kennedy signed into law legislation creating the United States Peace Corps. With one stroke of a pen, President Kennedy deepened our nation’s ability to live out key values — values like service, peace, sacrifice, commitment and learning from those we hope to serve. I am proud to be one of more than 6,565 Oregonians who have served in the Peace Corps, joining more than 240,000 nationwide over these last 60 years.
Like most volunteers in the '60s, I went to help others, only to learn that I was the big winner by what I learned from the Koreans. Already, Kay Flaxel from North Bend had been a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines by the time I arrived in Korea in January 1968.
I want to share how growing up in the Bay Area helped me in some of my work as a Peace Corps volunteers.
In the evenings I taught English to the director of the Department of Forestry. He and three others were going to New Zealand as part of their re-forestation efforts, so they needed to improve their English.
Since I had worked at Weyerhaeuser for three summers while attending college, I knew of the work Weyerhaeuser had done growing trees. My mother, Billie Boileau, contacted Don Dill to see if they could provide me information. Soon I was teaching with many of their materials about growing forests. Thus, I had materials with a specialized vocabulary to teach English. Thus, my students had the contexts of the words I was teaching from the wonderful pictures these materials offered.
My second year in Korea I taught English to the committee in charge of ports, fisheries and docks. They had a problem with cranes in the port of Inchon falling into the bay especially during times of low tides. Their logs were coming from Indonesia as the war and subsequent lack of fuel had denuded most of their forest areas.
Again, my work allowed me to teach them how Weyerhaeuser handled the logs bringing them from the tidal waters of Coos Bay up to the log deck. Fortunately, I had spent one week retarring that structure so I had many diagrams from which to teach.
The many hours I had spent walking the docks holding our fishing boats and those walking the docks of the lumber ships added to my conversations.
Since South Korea at that time was short on housing, we were the first Peace Corps country to house all the volunteers with families. The youngest daughter, Oak Song, before I had finished my service came to live with my parents for a year in North Bend. She attended SWOCC to work on her English skills. She, too, came to love the area taking advantage of the many opportunities in the area.
None of these experiences at the time were incidents of formal education, but they led to my success as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Perhaps the most important idea I want to share is how growing up in the Coos Bay area was a key part of my preparation to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Little did I know at the time how important the Bay Area would be in what I could actually do.
Don M. Boileau graduated from North Bend High School in 1960. He served as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in South Korea in 1968 and 1969. He is an Emeritus Professor from George Mason University.