Before there was MNRPCV, there was…

By Russell Petricka (Republic of Tanzania 1964-1967)

In the fall of 1974, I had just returned to Minnesota after spending the past year as a long term substitute teacher in a high school in the southwestern corner of Iowa and had just begun a job as a one-on-one math tutor for the Minority Affairs Office at Carleton College in my hometown of Northfield, MN and I was looking for some way to renew my ties with any people or groups that shared a similar background to my past Peace Corps experience.  I’m not sure where I got the information as to the existence of this group, but I somehow got word of this group, whose complete name was “if… MINNESOTA INDEPENDENT FOUNDATION (Peace Corps and VISTA Alumni for Social Change)”, and they had an ‘office’ located at 3036 University Ave., S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414 (612)331-3370.  As the name implies, the group consisted mostly of returned Peace Corps Volunteers and some VISTA Alumni now living in the Twin Cities Area.  The elected leader of the group was a guy named Gordon Travis and his ‘assistant’ was Thomas Newbery.  The rest of us were the members-at-large and we consisted of:  Rita Daigle, George Weyer, Sue Summerfield, William Sausser, Mandy Johnson, Russell Petricka, Helen Quintal, Chris Zaglifa, Kevin Talbert, Susan Travis, Sue Goll, Patricia Clarke, Mary Scobey, Larry Johnson, Roger Dudley, and Larry Nelson.  Does anyone recognize any of these names as people still living in the Twin Cities area?

My first meeting with the group took place on Sept. 19, 1974.  After having Gordon and Tom introduce several projects, Tom talked in greater length about a Minnesota Humanities Commission Project.  We ended up choosing the Minnesota Humanities Commission Project which consisted of …’a series of public programs entitled, “Public Enemies or Public Victims?  A Look at the Minnesota Penal System.”’  We then wrote a grant proposal, requesting funding from the Minnesota Humanities Commission for the Project.

Well, the Minnesota Humanities Commission funded our proposal with a grant award of $8,275 and we began to flesh out a program and the final result was a play or what we called ‘THE MINNESOTA INDEPENDENT FOUNDATION TOUR DRAMA “THE CRIME OF PUNISHMENT”’.  The grant money was used to pay for lighting equipment, 2 actors, 1 technician, stage rental or construction, production costs, and travel expenses.  I don’t want to bore you with a long-winded description of the play.  So, let me just summarize its content by saying that,   “…The first half hour segment has four scenes showing the growth of a young male from home to adulthood.  (Scene IV climaxes with)…an act of violence against a woman.  This ends the first segment (of the play) with the male in flight in vast confusion.  The second segment (of the play) has three scenes that show the treatment of the male once his act is noted and called a “crime.””  This framework (presented in the form of a modern dance) provided us with opportunities to examine our penal system while still provoking the audience’s empathy for   “the plight of the modern prisoner”.  The play was then followed by a panel discussion, designed to create the maximum in audience participation.

We performed this play in seven different cities scattered throughout Minnesota.  Our itinerary went as follows:  Duluth – April 25, 1975  Bohannon Hall  Room #90 Campus of U of MD;  Hibbing – April 26, 1975  Room #L-10  Hibbing Community College;  Redwood Falls – May 2, 1975  Donavons Conference Center;  Bemidji – May 9, 1975  Bemidji State;  Moorhead – May 10, 1975;  Rochester – May 30, 1975  Windsor Room  Kahler Hotel;  Mankato – June 13, 1975.

The grant period extended from January 22, 1975 to June 30, 1975 and the final evaluation and financial report was due back to the Minnesota Humanities Commission by July 31, 1975.  So, we performed the play at all of our locations, wrote up our financial report and turned everything in to the Minnesota Humanities Commission on July 31, 1975 and were left with a clean slate.  Then, I’m not sure whether everyone was eager for a break, it was the middle of the summer and everyone was thinking of summer vacation, or that Gordon and his wife Sue were leaving Minnesota, but the group seemed to break up at this point and everyone went their separate ways.  At any rate, I never heard anything from or about the group after that.  But, if I were asked to recall any first efforts at organizing some kind of Returned  Peace Corps Volunteer Group dedicated to the idea of social reform or social activism and change, I would have to identify this group  “if … MINNESOTA INDEPENDENT FOUNDATION (Peace Corps and VISTA Alumni for Social Change)” as fitting that description.