The Beginning of MNRPCV

By Leon and Nancy Erstad (Federated States of Micronesia 1970-1972)

Thirty years ago, with the incorporation date of December 18, 1980, Minnesota Returned Peace Corps Volunteers became an official non-profit corporation. Leon Erstad, Nancy Erstad, and Sharon Goodyear signed as the representing incorporators. But the story started in 1979. Six returned Volunteers who were living in Minnesota had met at a fledgling meeting of a national RPCV get-together, and had responded to the question, “Do you want to organize something in your home state?” They talked to the Peace Corps Recruiting Office, who facilitated a letter to all known RPCVs in Minnesota, inviting all for a weekend of discussion in Mankato. The letter, dated June 4th, invited RPCVs for the weekend of June 9th and 10th. Linda and Peter Dahm graciously hosted the event, arranging for a room at the Mankato State College for discussions, plus floor space, tent space, and a keg of beer for the evening at their house. Twenty four people came. The discussion was vigorous. Some questioned the need for any organization. Many questioned how an organized group could work. It was great, serious fun and very heady. It would have been headier still to have known we would write about it thirty years later.

We made many decisions that brief weekend: what name, what purpose, what kind of a structure would work, and how we might get it going. We discovered the commonality and synergy of RPCVs together despite very different countries of service. RPCVs had gotten projects going before, and this time we knew the language fluently, including the idioms! By the end of the weekend we identified four areas we all truly shared in common: (1) We all knew that the third goal of Peace Corps – to bring our experience back home – could be better served if we worked together. We called this Community Outreach, and it included starting a speakers’ bureau. We also wondered about working with refugees, creating a language bank, and working somehow to increase Third World awareness. (2) We had fun together, and there was something about the Peace Corps experience bond that made getting together and helping each other something worth doing regularly. We called this area Volunteer Support, which also included PCV project support and recruitment assistance. (3) Some, though not all, were committed to Political Action, and working together was better than working alone. This could provide a base to exchange information with other newly formed RPCV groups and PC Washington. (4) Finally, if we were going to do the first three, we would need to devote time and energy to communicating with each other and getting enough money to at least keep in touch with each other. We decided that a quarterly newsletter and annual membership dues (free to first year RPCVs) would be a good start.

In 1979 there was a pretty strong sentiment against organizing too formally. Thus, there were only four elected/volunteer positions coming out of that first meeting. Fred Thompson was responsible for developing a logo for the group. Pam Thompson was the newsletter editor. Sue Briney was the keeper of the mailing list. Linda Dahm was the treasurer. Many others volunteered to take responsibility for tasks such as a speakers’ bureau, political lobbying, and readjustment support. We spread the word (our thanks to the local very supportive Peace Corps office). The idea took off, and we grew quickly. By the fall of 1979, when we had a picnic in an old barn at Carver Park, we had a full house (barn?) of RPCVs, their families, and friends. There were lots of ideas about things to do, and we began to realize that the lack of an organizational structure made it much harder to get anything done.

So on June 21, 1980, at the second annual meeting at Lake Rebecca Park, we began the organizational plunge and created a Board of Directors. We decided to formally incorporate and apply for tax exempt status. We’ve attached a list of names from the first Board of Directors, which was required for our articles of incorporation. At the next meeting a month later Leon Erstad was elected President; Peter Dahm, Vice-President; Sharon Goodyear, Secretary; and Linda Dahm, Treasurer. Jerry Fruetel was voted to represent us as a delegate to the National Council. By the end of the year, we were official.

Many of the MNRPCV “traditions” started early. The summer get-together originally was an optional camping weekend with a Sunday afternoon big pot-luck. Eventually it got shortened to the best part. The first ski weekend was in mid February 1980, and 24 people went to Isabella, MN. The annual Christmas Party was definitely in place by 1980, held at the Minnesota International Center for many years. In June of 1982 we contacted Minnesota PCVs for current projects for a Partnership Program – we walked around Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles raising money in the Walkathon. Also very early was the request for RPCVs to “bring your best 10 slides” for the annual show.

A few months after incorporating we obtained a Proclamation from Minnesota Governor Albert Quie declaring the week of April 5, 1981, Peace Corps Appreciation Week. (This was part of helping to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Peace Corps.) We capped that week off by sponsoring a forum which presented international issues to a packed house and full media coverage by all the major television networks in the Twin Cities. Within two years, the strength and energy of RPCVs in Minnesota had made us a group to be proud of. Thirty years later, it continues. We are still proud to be involved in this group.

The original organizing committee: Gary Meinke, Duane and Sylvia Elrod, Fred Thompson, and Peter and Linda Dahm.

The original 24 who met in Mankato: Linda and Peter Dahm, Micronesia 73-75; Fred and Pam Thompson, Turkey 67-69; Jane and Larry Bodahl, Jamaica 74-76; Sharon Goodyear, Jamaica 73-76; Grant Rockswold, Lesotho 76-78; Rand Schott, Lesotho, 76-78; Karen Lang, Yemen 75-78; Nancy and Leon Erstad, Micronesia 70-72; Gail Brong, Sierra Leone, 74-76; Pixie Martin, Malaysia 71-73; Sue Briney, Lesotho 76-78; Margaret Warpeha, Western Samoa 74-76; Dorothy Wrase, Liberia 71-73; Stephen Johnson, Dominican Republic 67-69; Gary Meinke, India 70-72; Rich Carlson, Micronesia 68-70; Duane Elrod, Guatemala 67-69; Joan Geick, Sierra Leone 74-76; Richard Martin, Korea 77-79; Wallace Runck, Ethiopia 73-75.