How did Ohio University produce more than 770 Peace Corps volunteers in the agency’s first 50 years?
hen Frank Gillespie set off for Thailand in 1962 as one of Ohio University’s first Peace Corps volunteers, little did he know that he was kicking off a 50-year tradition of international service by idealistic Bobcats. Gillespie, AB ’58, arrived in Thailand as part of “Group II,” that is, the second group of Americans to ever serve for the Corps. It wasn’t John F. Kennedy — who established the Peace Corps in 1961— who primarily inspired this service, Gillespie says. Rather, it was Ohio University’s professors, many of whom had served overseas in World War II. Among them, Gillespie singles out history Professor John Cady, who had served in the Office of Strategic Services (later the CIA) during the war and then in the State Department, overseeing programs in Asia and Africa. “It is difficult to explain the influence John Cady had on me,” Gillespie says now. “He was an example of a man who had been involved with history as it was being made, was clearly an expert in his field, and as he taught history he brought in the idea that a real student must look at how people in the country of study behave and why.” While Gillespie credits his professor for
preparing him for a stint in Asia, he didn’t need much help once he arrived. He served as an instructor at a teacher’s college in the northeast part of the country, where he fit in quite nicely as a colleague, badminton teammate and kite-fighting spectator. He helped at least 10 students at the college earn American Field Service scholarships to the United States, a first for that institution. And, of course, the benefits went both ways. “Personally, Peace Corps confirmed for me that I could learn — and use — foreign languages; that I could function in environments different from previous experience,” says Gillespie, who would use these skills in his future international development career. Gillespie’s service fulfilled Peace Corps’ three goals: to train the host country’s own people, to promote a better understanding of Americans in the host country and to help Americans understand other peoples better. This last category may be where Gillespie excelled: He married a fellow instructor from Thailand, Urai Santitrakul. When they traveled to the United States, he wanted to show her his alma mater. “When we were first married, one of the first things [we did] — we came back and went to Homecoming back in 1965.”
fa l l 2012