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Peace Corps veteran reflects on time in Thailand

WENDY HATCH | Friday, October 11, 2013

In 1961, the senior class of St. Francis Xavier University sat in their gaps and gowns and listened to President John F. Kennedy state he was going to start an organization that would send young volunteers overseas to help other people. 

Roger Parent, author of the newly released “The Making of a Peace Corps Volunteer: From Maine to Thailand”, was among the graduates that day, and said he was incredibly struck by President Kennedy’s new proposal. On Thursday, Parent held a book-signing in the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore to promote his new book. 

“I thought to myself, ‘Hey, I want to do that,'” Parent said. “So I wrote President Kennedy a letter right away and I said I want to be a part of this thing that you have started. Well, lo and behold, six months later I was invited to be a part of the Peace Corps in Thailand.” 

Parent said he was a part of the first group of Peace Corps volunteers who were sent to Thailand in 1961. The group volunteered until 1963, he said. 

Parent said is originally from French-Speaking Lille, Maine where he learned English as a second language. 

“They probably thought that [attending college] in a foreign country would be an asset,” Parent said. “But what I don’t think they understood is that I grew up a couple thousand yards from the Canadian boarder.” 

While in Thailand, Parent said he taught locals about carpentry and the English language.  

“I was teaching Thai people to speak English with a French accent,” he said. 

When his services ended in 1963, Parent said he explored options for Peace Corps returnees in the states.

 “[The Peace Corps] is what brought me to the University of Notre Dame,” Parent said. “Father Ted Hesburgh had a Return Peace Corps Scholarship and since I was one of the first Peace Corps volunteers to go to the Peace Corps and get out, it had to go to somebody.” 

Parent used his scholarship to receive a master of education degree from Notre Dame in 1967. After receiving his degree, Parent said he and his family decided to stay in South Bend, where he served as a city councilman from 1972 to 1979 and served as mayor from 1980 to 1987. 

“It turned out South Bend was a great place for me”, said Parent. “I got accepted in the community really early here … I joke that I thought I would live on the east coast or the west coast and ended up living on the west coast of Lake Michigan.”

Parent said his experience serving as a Peace Corps volunteer helped him to become a better politician.

“In the Peace Corps I had to put myself in someone else’s shoes … when I got elected mayor I had some experience doing that,” Parent said. “As a politician you always have to try to figure out what people are thinking.”

Overall, Parent said the Peace Corps taught him much about life and he said he would recommend it to anyone. 

“We are never called ‘former Peace Corps Volunteers.’ Once a Peace Corps Volunteer always a Peace Corps Volunteer,” Parent said.

Contact Wendy Hatch at whatch@nd.edu