Ashland has a wealth of former Peace Corps volunteers

Ashland has a thriving community of former Peace Corps volunteers and those preparing for a stint in the Peace Corps. Along with city officials in other regions, Mayor John Morrison recently declared the first week of March to be Peace Corps week.

Around Oregon, parties and recruitment events were planned this month to celebrate the Peace Corps' 35-plus years of service abroad. In Ashland, former volunteers consider service to the community a life-long occupation.

Ashland residents Ann Seltzer and her husband Bo served in the Peace Corps in 1978. While living in a remote village in South Korea, they worked at an orphanage.

"It was the best Peace Corps job that existed. We did everything from change diapers to help build schoolhouses and teach English," said Bo Seltzer.

"It was absolutely fabulous, and one of the greatest experiences of our lives," Ann said, adding that they remain friends with some of the other volunteers as well as some of the children they cared for. "We were such a tightly knit group. You don't forget relationships like that."

The couple offers advice for anyone considering the Peace Corps: "Go into it for the right reasons. You cannot do it for only altruistic purposes. Know that you will be changed," Ann said.

Bo agreed. "It has given us a more global perspective," he said.

Though the Seltzers joined the Peace Corps when they were in their early 20s, they would both consider re-enlisting after retirement.

Deedie Runkel, owner of Anne Hathaway's Bed and Breakfast, was employed by the Peace Corps as a public affairs director, and later as a country director for the Peace Corps unit in Belize. She worked directly with many volunteers and says she too sees the lifelong impact of Peace Corps service in the community.

"The Peace Corps offers a way of being in the world," Runkel said. "It is not only formative, it's transformative."

Runkel herself still strives to be of service in the world community. As a local Rotary Club member, she and the Rotary are involved in a project to provide materials to help build houses in Guanajuato, Mexico, Ashland's sister city.

Runkel said the Peace Corps has three goals: to help people overseas, to teach others about America and to teach Americans about the world.

"When you see a Peace Corps volunteer teaching elementary school kids about Tonga, we call that a third-goal activity. Teaching and service are part of being a Peace Corps volunteer," Runkel said.

Kay Lynn Sherman, an Ashland psychologist and former Peace Corps volunteer, estimates that there are 60 to 70 returned Peace Corps volunteers in Ashland.

Local group The State of Jefferson Returned Peace Corps Volunteers holds periodic meetings both to promote service within the community and bring local attention to the goals of the Peace Corps. The group often marches in the July 4 parade, with members carrying the flag of the country they served in.

Sherman said she still draws on her experience as a teacher in Venezuela when working with people.

"It shaped my whole life in many different ways," Sherman said.

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