My Peace Corps Years

Henry (Hank) Scheinost, St. Lucia (1963-1965)

I served as a PCV in St. Lucia,  West Indies from 1963 -1965 and as ASPCD and acting Deputy Director for the Eastern Caribbean from 1967-1970.  St. Lucia was the only Caribbean Island to have Peace Corps from 1961 thru 1965. Today St. Lucia is the second longest continuous country to have PC. The program is spread throughout the Eastern Caribbean.

I am going to write about one experience rather than an overview of my years as a PCV. I will recall the day that President Kennedy was assassinated as this had a big impact on me and the people of St. Lucia.

Three of the PCV’s in our group were teaching at a new secondary school in Vieux Fort. This was the first Government Secondary School on the Island and only the third secondary school. We had just finished a lengthy faculty meeting and were riding in the back of a pickup from school to town when the USAID man pulled us over and told us that Kennedy had been shot. At the time radio communication was limited and of course there was no TV. We sat around a radio for some time before it was announced that he had died. By this time word was getting around town and people were gathering on the street and in the rum shops to listen to reports of the shooting and talk.

Kennedy was very popular in St. Lucia, partly because of Peace Corps and the interest he had shown in third world countries. Many homes had photos of him hanging on their walls. Unlike most nights the streets and rum shops were very quiet as people mourned. For the next few days many of the St. Lucians stayed close to the radio to listen to accounts of the shooting. The PCV’s were offered condolences as we would walk through town and the students were very interested in what we had to say about the death of our President. 

The leaders of Vieux Fort set a memorial mass at the Catholic Church in town for 6am a few days after the shooting. I was asked to give a speech as a representative of the USA. The church was packed as well as the courtyard by the church. The men wore their black suits and the women white dresses. St. Lucians are known for speeches and some can get quite lengthy so we were getting on to 2 hours when my turn came. I gave the speech and that ended the formal service. The invited guests then went over to the school and began the wake which consisted of drinking some straight whiskey and telling some stories. 

For several weeks after the assassination of Kennedy we were offered condolences by the people of St. Lucia and asked about the events following the death and funeral. The people of St. Lucia were very sincere and interested in what we thought. I had joined Peace Corps because at the time Vietnam wasn’t a big issue and I was taken up by Kennedy and his , “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” . I believe that I became a better volunteer after his death because of the concern of the St. Lucians and my resolve to carry out his dream. I remember going to Washington DC in

1963. We were met by several government officials and taken to a hotel for a reception. The 13 of us landed on St. Lucia on August 25, 1963. The following day we toured the Island and were greeted along the way by shouts of Peace Corps. Being the second group we were still a novelty and somewhat of a celebrity. Our group consisted of teachers, teacher trainers, nurses and agriculture extension volunteers. St. Lucia was able to place a few people in various positions because of the small size of the Island. The first group had been very popular and one couple extended. They had one of the first PC babies during their tour and were well known around the Island and were a big help to us on the anniversary of Kennedys death and giving the same speech in the Capital Rotunda.