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WILSON: --fourth, and this is Angene Wilson interviewing Ron Pelfrey about his Peace Corps experience. What is your full name?

PELFREY: Ronald Stephen Pelfrey.

WILSON: And when and where were you born?

PELFREY: When? September 21, 1944. Lexington, Kentucky.

WILSON: Okay. And tell me something about your family and growing up here in Lexington.

PELFREY: I grew up in, I guess you would say, a very poor working class family. I was the first grandchild of both my mother's family and my father's family. I was the first to go to college and still, I've got probably fifty cousins, I think only two or three have been to college. It's a poor, working class group of people. My father dropped out of high school, my mother dropped out of high school. They both dropped out when they got married. And I was born a year later.

WILSON: So when and where did you go to college? And how did it happen, given your family circumstances that you went to college.

PELFREY: I went to the University of Kentucky. Still, they saw the 00:01:00value of education. They pushed me to go to college. But I went to UK, because I could not afford anyplace else. And that was it. And I worked all the way even through then. I had to work my way and pay my own tuition all the way through school.

WILSON: What did you major in?

PELFREY: I have a BS in math and chemistry. And also at the same time, I took all the hours in math, I ended up with sixty-six credits in math in undergraduate. But then also, on top of that, carried twenty-one, averaged twenty-one hours a semester. So I took teacher education at the same time. So I graduate also with a teaching certificate for secondary math.

WILSON: So you graduated in--

PELFREY: 1966.

WILSON: 1966. Okay. And you had, you went into the Peace Corps right after college. How did that work?

PELFREY: I was interested in, first, because I grew up in Lexington. Had never been anywhere outside of Lexington and family around Central Kentucky area. Never traveled anywhere else other than parents had 00:02:00occasionally gone on vacation to the South, but very short visit by auto and stayed in the cheapest motels, we'd stay. So I really hadn't seen anything, hadn't experienced anything. And I thought if I was going to be a good teacher, which I intended to be, I wanted to have more than the experience that I had. I thought I had to broaden my horizons and see more of the world. And I went to see really, literally, more of the world. So I got recruited in the Peace Corps at the junior year. And they put me in a program that was called the advance training program. Which at that time was unique and it still is, because they dropped it after a while. But at that time, they took us out to UCLA, this is where the Peace Corps training was for Ethiopia. I went there in the summer between my junior and senior year, and had a summer of training. And then they took us back again for a week during Christmas break. And flew us back again for the summer, for one month of the summer after we graduated. And then they flew us directly after that into Ethiopia to do summer school in the summer. Teach at summer 00:03:00school before we actually got our regular assignment to teach a school year. So it was a very good experience. I taught in Los Angeles, for example, in Watts. Lived in Watts in the summer of the Watts Riot.

WILSON: Wow! Exactly.

PELFREY: And I lived with a black family in the Watts area. Walked to, I taught at Fouchet Junior High School. Walked to the junior high school. So I lived with the family. It was like a mother and I think it was nine kids. Nine or ten. They had just had a baby. Well, actually, the baby was one of the kids' babies. A sixteen year old girl had had a baby just before I got there. So that was a unique experience. I taught math there. And then two weeks after we left, the Watts Riots started. And the Los Angeles newspapers blamed part of that on us. Said the Peace Corps had stirred everybody up about their situation, that they were not pleasing, that it was not the correct situation. So that was part of the rationale. They said they got people--

WILSON: What do you think about that now?

PELFREY: Well, I don't know. The ones I talked with, because it was a 00:04:00mother and kids. They were not involved with the riot, I don't think. The ones that were involved were the young men. And most of the families we stayed in were fatherless families. So I don't think there was that much direct impact. It may have been secondarily.

WILSON: That's interesting, Ron, because you were growing up in Lexington at a time when the schools here were segregated, right?

PELFREY: Right. Well we had, I went to Lafayette High School. We had three black kids. My class was four hundred kids in the senior class. I had one that graduated with me. One black kid out of four hundred. So it was integrated, but only in name.

WILSON: So this is before people like George Wright and Lauretta Byars went to Lafayette?


WILSON: Right. Okay. The very beginning of desegregation. Wow. What an experience to go to Los Angeles. What, did you have language training, too?

PELFREY: I had language training -- I assume like they do it now -- at UCLA. The instructor there was Wolf Leslau. He was an expert on the 00:05:00Semitic languages. He spoke ten different Semitic languages. And he wrote the textbook for the Ethiopian language. And he brought in and we lived and everything we communicated, we were not allowed to speak in English. When we're in the cafeteria, when we're playing sports, we had to speak strictly in Amharic.

WILSON: Had you had language before?

PELFREY: I had Latin.

WILSON: And did you get pretty good at it?

PELFREY: Latin's not a spoken language.

WILSON: No, no, no, no. But did you get pretty good at Amharic?

PELFREY: By the time, end of my two summers, and also, one of the trainers that they brought in was from Ethiopia was the Haile Fulass. And when I got my first assignment in teaching was in Amba, Ethiopia, my roommate, you're allowed to have, with the -----------(??) you're required at that time, I don't know if they still do, but they required students after their junior year to do extended service, regardless of what their major was, they had to go out in the community and teach. And my first roommate was Haile Fulass. He was my instructor back 00:06:00at UCLA.

WILSON: Oh, wonderful!

PELFREY: So I lived with him. Even that first year, I was 3+ on the FSI.


PELFREY: In Amharic. Which is pretty decent. I did a lot of the teaching. The teaching was in English, officially. I did a lot of teaching in Amharic as well at the school.

WILSON: Let me go back a minute. How did you actually find out about Peace Corps? You said you wanted to broaden horizons, you wanted to be a better teacher. But why did you choose Peace Corps? Did you hear a lot about it at that time?

PELFREY: Well actually, my first experience, a little different, also in my, early my junior year. All of my junior year, I joined the Appalachian Volunteers. Which was a group that Tom Padgett started with on the UK campus. And later became in charge of the UK police. And his wife also became an elementary school teacher. I knew her 00:07:00pretty well. But he started me getting involved in volunteer kind of things, with Appalachian Volunteers. I worked as a math tutor in Wolfe County in a one-room schoolhouse. I went down every Saturday through my junior year to teach, to tutor math. Taulbee ----------(??)Taulbee was the principal teacher, the one person in that school. He would come in with me every once in a while. But I was probably, he was going to open the door, a lot of time we leave. So I took from that. And the Peace Corps recruiter came in on campus.

WILSON: So it was a recruiter who--

PELFREY: Right. Set up in the Student Center, set up a table.

WILSON: Like they do now.

PELFREY: Right. We talked for a while, then went back and talked again.

WILSON: Were there any other people in your class at UK, or anybody else you knew who went into Peace Corps at that time?

PELFREY: No. No one else that I knew. At that time, people were getting out of the country, but they weren't going to Peace Corps. They were going to Canada ----------(??) Vietnam War, draft dodgers. So most of my friends had a lot of, Doug Ryan, Terry Anderson, a bunch 00:08:00of them that you graduated from Lafayette, they were in Montreal and Toronto and everywhere else.

WILSON: Right. That's really interesting. Okay. So we're jumping ahead into Ethiopia. Let's back up a minute. So process of joining was that you were recruited. You had to fill out an application. Did you have a choice of countries? Or how did you get into this program for Ethiopia?

PELFREY: We had a choice of countries, if you could make a choice. But I, again, I knew nothing about any other part of the world. So I just left that blank. I said, "Send me when I'm needed." That was my pitch, I guess. If you need me as a math teacher, I wanted to go wherever you wanted me to go. It came down, basically, the last two choices, they gave me two choices: Afghanistan or Ethiopia. And I chose between the two, and I chose Ethiopia. They said, "You can go to either one of these two places. That's where you're most needed right now in secondary math."

WILSON: Right. That's interesting. My sister and brother-in-law were 00:09:00in Afghanistan at that point with Peace Corps. (laughs) Small world. Okay. So you've talked about training. So this was 1966. So you actually were in Ethiopia from--

PELFREY: From the fall of '66 to the spring of '68.

WILSON: To spring of '68. Okay. All right. So what was it like to arrive in your host country? It sounds like you got right down to work if you were teaching summer school.

PELFREY: Taught summer school. We taught in Alamaya Agricultural School, which was a school founded by Oklahoma. It was Oklahoma, Oklahoma State. But we lived in Dire Dawa, which was about twelve or fifteen miles away from the college. And they'd bus us in every day to teach summer school, and bus us back in the afternoon for sports and language training. And so we did that for the month. And I taught math and chemistry.

WILSON: Now you were what number group in Ethiopia? At this point, there were a lot of volunteers in Ethiopia, right?


PELFREY: Quite a few. Our group was six. But there were still several hundred in Ethiopia at that time, had been in Ethiopia up to this point in time.

WILSON: Mostly teaching.

PELFREY: Primarily teaching. Some agriculture, some in law and other business areas. But over half of them had been in education.

WILSON: And then your Peace Corps job, actually, after the summer, was--

PELFREY: Was teaching. I taught high school, ninth and tenth grade. And then the unique parts of it, this question comes up later on, is that again, if you think about the late '60s, was new math. Modern math.

WILSON: Yes, right.

PELFREY: And Ethiopia had been, their education system was based on the British system. And their mathematics was called Howay (??) mathematics. And it was British books. But that particular year, that summer, the minister of education made the decision to go to new math in their high schools and secondary schools. And none of the teachers were trained. They adopted Entebbe math, it was developed in Uganda, but it was based upon the American new math system. So they didn't 00:11:00have anybody to teach it that knew the new math. So the very first thing I did was I went in and not only taught it, but I trained the other teachers, secondary level math teachers, who were all Indians. There was also one of these, again, foreign exchange students, or whatever you want to call them, or foreign, the didn't have any foreign exchange, but the Ethiopian student, he was at the junior year, he was also an engineer. Had him teach math.

WILSON: But he was doing a national service.

PELFREY: National service, right.

WILSON: So these were Indian--

PELFREY: All Indian. All the math teachers were from Bombay, Calcutta. Most of them were from the Madras area of India. But all the science teachers, all the math teachers, were Indians. And the English teachers. All that area, the only ones, there were social studies, there were one or two Ethiopian teachers who were in social studies. Even the geography teachers were Indians. But anyway, I taught the math teachers how to teach modern math. And I was also appointed by the headmaster on two committees. One was the discipline committee, 00:12:00which there wasn't much discipline problems. Compared to here, nothing at all like it. And also on the scheduling committee. So the three of us, and Indian teacher, myself, and the headmaster did all the scheduling for the school. So that was very unique, somebody straight out of college having that kind of a broad range of experience that certainly paid dividends later on.

WILSON: What, how big was the school?

PELFREY: It was a K-12. But the elementary part was all Ethiopian teachers. Mostly the ones in that area that lived right there in the town that I lived in. The secondary school started grades seven through twelve was taught in English. And it was classes, no classes less than forty-five students. And there was there classes per grade level in each of those grades.

WILSON: And that was boarding school for--

PELFREY: There was no boarding school.

WILSON: So it was all--

PELFREY: The students had to move in. most of them, very few of them, small percentage, maybe 5 to 10 percent of the students that lived in 00:13:00the immediate area. Most of the students had to travel in from the boonies. We were in the boonies, but they had to come from even more rural areas, and rent a house together, and take care of themselves for the entire year. And most of the Peace Corps over there, it changed over the years, but there were four to six Peace Corps in that town. And two of us, the guy from California and myself and two Ethiopians rented a house together, the Peace Corps. And there was another couple, a married couple had a house together, were the Peace Corps. And there was another lady who was also a math teacher who had a house. Each one of us, the three Peace Corps houses, we adopted or supported students. We had no less than five students at any one time. They lived, you had a little house kind of a one-room house in the back where they stayed in. And they did gardening for us, and went shopping, market area, and so forth.

WILSON: And that took care of their living expenses. And then did you pay their school fees, too?

PELFREY: There weren't any school fees.

WILSON: There weren't any school fees. It was full.

PELFREY: Everything's free in Ethiopian education. Other than the 00:14:00lesson books and those kind of thing. There were no textbooks. The only people that had textbooks were the teachers. Students didn't have textbooks. They had to have little lesson books that they took notes on.

WILSON: So you began to talk about, so what were your living conditions like? What was your house like?

PELFREY: It was a typical Ethiopian house, except that it was mud, thatched, and a metal roof on top of it. Corrugated metal roof. The exception was that there were only, in the town that we lived in, there were ten houses that had running water. Three of those houses were Peace Corps houses. There were a few that had running water. So we had a big huge tank up on stilts, about twenty feet up in the air, that held water. And it drained down and filled, it was river water, so it was muddy. You'd wash yourself in muddy water. And it would be filtered, the Peace Corps gave us this big filter for the drinking water. And we had to add all the chemical stuff to it to take care of it. Because there were a lot of parasites in the water system there. It was ----------(??).


WILSON: How did you cook?

PELFREY: We had propane gas to cook with, which again was unusual. Because most of the, typically Ethiopians would cook on charcoal. We had propane that the Peace Corps would bring in from the capital. The Land Rover delivered propane to us once a month.

WILSON: Oh, wow. And where did you get your food?

PELFREY: From the market. So we raised, we had a garden that we raised quite a bit. The students worked it. We raised corn, had about half a dozen different crops.

WILSON: Did you eat Ethiopian food?

PELFREY: All the time.

WILSON: All the time.

PELFREY: All the time. We had a maid, cook. Which again was unusual. But it's not unusual for teachers. All the teachers had, because teachers were the upper class in Ethiopia. So we expected, it was unusual if we didn't have a cook and a maid. So from my perspective, living conditions were good. I had somebody to take care of me, had somebody to raise a garden for me, and comfortable, the temperature was perfect. It never got over the mid seventies in the daytime, and 00:16:00it never got colder than forty-five, probably closer to fifty in the nighttime, anywhere during the year. Had rain in the summer. But I wasn't there in the summer. Peace Corps took us out in the summer to send us somewhere else.

WILSON: What did you do in the summer?

PELFREY: That first summer, we went to Kenya and Uganda. We had to write a project. So my roommate, again, was from UC Berkeley, that's where he graduated. So he wrote back to them and asked, "Would you like us to gather some insects, some butterflies, whatever else, from East Africa and tell you where we caught them, what the elevation was, the temperature conditions, and mount them and send them to you?" So they said sure, Well, do that. So we spent the summer. The Peace Corps gave us a Land Rover. They gave us a translator and let us go for a month through Kenya and Uganda. So we went to Ngorongoro Crater and all these different places for a month. Traveled around collecting butterflies with butterfly nets. ----------(??) collecting, and mounted them, and saying what all the climatic conditions were. And then box them up, send them back to California. That was very-- it was perfect.


WILSON: And the second summer?

PELFREY: The second summer, by that time, I was leaving. Christmastime we went to Kagnew station, which is the military base. That's one of the things we always had to overcome in the country. A lot of it, not where I was, but a lot of parts, the capital, or the parts thought Peace Corps was a CIA cover. And they'd even compound that by sending us to Kagnew Station, which was the number one military communications station at that time. That's where they had the hearing eye, hearing devices to hear into Russia. So they sent us there for a summer for Christmas break, to receive additional training. That didn't sound very good to Ethiopians. Why were they sending them there to CIA headquarters, for training. But where I was, there was no concern at all.

WILSON: What was it like to become acclimated to Ethiopia. You're 00:18:00sounding as though everything was fine. Anything that was difficult in adjustment? Was there anything you didn't feel prepared for?

PELFREY: As I said, we had unusual circumstances. We had two summers. And we had a lot of intensive language training. We were housed all the time with Ethiopians on the campus and so forth. We played the sports on campus then, summer school, we had intensive exposure. By the time we got to that point, we started out in ATP [Advanced Training Program] with sixty-six. Ones who volunteered are the ones who actually left to go to the summer school training, there was only thirty-three left. So most of us, out of the thirty-three that left, thirty of them de-selected themselves. Only three of them were actually removed by the Peace Corps. So those thirty-three knew what they were getting into. And none of those thirty-three left. They all stayed. And over half of them extended.

WILSON: Did you extend?

PELFREY: No, I didn't. I'd gotten, your question later on, but I'd gotten accepted to go to Columbia Teachers' College. To go to a, one 00:19:00of the first classes of international education, and gotten accepted into that program.

WILSON: So you were ready to go.

PELFREY: I was ready to go.

WILSON: Okay. Well, hang on to that. So describe what a typical day was like during the year, when you're teaching.

PELFREY: Typical day in school year was to get up with the pigeons waking me up on the roof. It was corrugated metal. They'd get up there and they'd bang around on the roof. I'd wake up to my alarm clock, which was the pigeons. But in any case, basically sunrise. They followed very much of a biblical day, or like a Jewish day. They'd get up with the sun, that's your first hour. You start going to school. And we lived just a couple of yards from the school. So we'd get up, get dressed and ready for school, and walk to school, and stayed there. We had to come home for lunch, because there was no cafeteria at the school. Everybody had to prepare their meals. We'd walk back home for lunch. Walk back in the afternoon, teach again, 00:20:00come back in the afternoon and grade papers, prepare lessons. And we had a Gestetner to run off tests and assignments. Because again, the students didn't have any textbooks. Every once in a while, I would give them some notes so they wouldn't have to write so much. Every once in a while. I couldn't do it very often, because Peace Corps didn't give a huge supply, either paper or those wax Gestetner forms. But every once in a while, I'd give them some notes. Primarily our study guide like for the major tests. So I'd run those off. And then about seven o'clock, we'd listen to the Voice of America. That was the only English broadcast. It went on for, I think it was an hour. And by that time it was dark, so you'd go to bed.

WILSON: What was it like teaching? What were the kids like? And of course, well, you'd done some tutoring here in the US. Forty-five in a class, you say?

PELFREY: The smallest class was forty-five. They were pretty well packed in. It was different in the high school there. Rather than the students changing classes, the teachers changed classes. So we'd 00:21:00go from 10A to 10B, 10C, or whatever it might be, going through there. The kids would stay in that room all day long. And the teachers would take their materials and go room to room. But for the most part, the huge majority of students, you never had any discipline problem with. Nor did you have any problem with motivation. They already had left their homes. They wanted to learn. And they rented a house and took care of themselves, washed their own clothes, bought their own food, cooked their own food. And they were very dedicated. They wanted an education. So you had, they were just open vessels. And anything you say, they would write it down, regardless of whether it was important or not, they would make sure they got it down. And they studied together. They had, much like the system out at UK, they would always study together. The students did not study individually. It was unheard of. Always studying in pairs or in groups. So they were all very motivated. It was a national curriculum. It was a national test. They could not graduate from the seventh grade unless they passed a national test. They could not graduate from the high school 00:22:00unless they passed a national test. So they were motivated with these different stages. If they wanted to go to particular programs, they knew the kind of book (??) standards were. At the teacher training institute, there was a different standard to get in the military, you had to have a certain score. If they wanted to go to college, they had to have a certain score. They knew what those were. They always worked at it. So there was, I didn't have to be a motivator as much as you have to be here.

WILSON: What were your interactions with what Peace Corps called host country nationals like? You mentioned living one summer with somebody from Ethiopia.

PELFREY: Right. Oh, we did. The whole school year. We definitely lived with the national service students throughout the school year.

WILSON: Throughout the school year. Okay.

PELFREY: So we had, the first year, I said Haile was my roommate. Haile and Solomon. Solomon was actually there only for a semester before he married one of the Peace Corps volunteers, the other math teacher. So I was left with one national service student that year. And the second year, we get two national service students again. One was an engineer, and one was a journalism major. So both years we had, at least part 00:23:00of the year, two Ethiopian nationals that lived with us. Also, I was involved pretty heavily with the teaching staff. Not so much with the community, because there was only so much time for evenings sorts of things.. But we were involved a lot with the students. I started, I went into, during the first summer, I got a break and I went into the YMCA in the capital and talked to them, and talked them out of about seven hundred dollars US to start the YMCA in the town that I was in. So we bought ping pong tables and soccer equipment and basketballs. And everything we want back up here and built. They already had a basketball goal that a former Peace Corps volunteer had built, but it wasn't quite perpendicular. So we put it back, and put up some straighter goals, and built new basketball goals. We put all those in. And we competed. We had a YMCA soccer team, we competed. It was a mixed faculty/student team that played against the other smaller communities around us. I was a goalie. Because I didn't have the foot 00:24:00skills, but I did have the hand skills from playing baseball. So I did well as a goalie. So we did, we played every weekend, we'd go off and play soccer some place for that year. Then I taught them how to play ping pong because they'd never played that. And basketball, I was the referee and coach for the basketball. I was heavily involved in those kind of activities. And it did well from that. It was growing. It really go the guys interested in different facets of it. Not only fundraising and taking care of money. We had dues, we charged dues for the kids. They didn't have much. That was just a way to make sure they were involved with, like charging them fifty cents for membership.

WILSON: What about interactions with other Americans? You said there were other Peace Corps volunteers?

PELFREY: Peace Corps, yeah. Peace Corps, we had dinner. I lived with one guy, and there were another couple of families that we met at different schools. And we'd meet periodically. At least two or three times a week we'd get together and do something together in the community. And we'd go, every once in a while we'd go shopping 00:25:00together in the capital, or in the local market.

WILSON: And you already mentioned that you went to Uganda and Kenya.


WILSON: Did you have any other vacation kinds of things?

PELFREY: No, the rest of it was the whole school year. We were there for the duration.

WILSON: What are several particularly memorable stories from your Peace Corps service? That maybe you still tell or remember. And why are they memorable and meaningful?

PELFREY: One, I mentioned a little already, was the new math and the system changed to the modern math away from the old Howay (??) mathematics. And it was a national exam. So I taught ninth and tenth grade. And every student went through me in ninth grade and tenth grade in math. So I didn't know how they'd done. But I came back later, I went back and visited, five years after I left. And when I went back, I went to the capital and I went back again to the town that 00:26:00I lived in and taught. And I saw the headmaster there. And I asked how did the students do on the math exam, two years later down the road. He said they scored number on in the country.


PELFREY: The graduating class. And it was a small school. And competing against all the provisions the capital had. They had a number of really good schools. They had an American school.

WILSON: You beat out the American school.

PELFREY: Beat out the American school. Which is all American, American-supported, but it's all Ethiopian, mostly Ethiopian students. Diplomats' kids and so forth, but it's primarily Ethiopians. But we came out number one. And so I was very pleased at that part of it. That I did a good job, apparently, of teaching them new math. And it stayed with them a little bit. So that was the most rewarding part of it. The other part was the beauty of the country. We walked, we did a lot of walking, hiking, around the countryside, especially on weekends. There was one place that was a volcanic crater that was almost a day's walk south of us. So we walked there a couple of times each year. 00:27:00And we walked to that one. And you'd walk over like up to the crest and you'd look down on this inside of this volcano. And it was just gorgeous. It was a capped volcano with the lake inside of it. But it had been dormant for quite a while, because there was a village down inside the volcano. And trees. My roommate was six foot six, and I took a picture of him next to these trees, and he was just completely dwarfed. You can't hardly see him. You don't even see the top of the trees. And you see him down in the bottom. They're at least forty or fifty feet tall. A rainforest area inside the volcano. It was the most beautiful place I've ever been. I've traveled all over the world since then. But that volcano area is probably the most beautiful scene that I've been anywhere. But you always had to be careful, because there was a liver flukes schistosomes in a lot of the waters. And one of the Peace Corps guys that was there the second summer that didn't live with, he lived another place. He was a social studies major. But he, one of the pictures I took was of him standing on the rim, looking 00:28:00down on this volcano. And I heard again, I went back five years later, that he'd gone swimming in Lake Tana, which was the source of the Blue Nile that feeds up into Egypt. And he had swam in that, and developed schistosomes. And he had died, just in that five year period. And when schistosomes comes in and attacks the liver, and it just consumes the liver. So he died in that short period. He'd done it before he ever got to the town I was in. It was like when he was in high school. But it took that long. He didn't realize it. About an eight or ten year process, but there was that five-year interval. He was always thin. But most Ethiopians are thin, so I didn't realize. Off the subject, so again, that was another unfortunate circumstance. Another one that's kind of, it's not really directly related to experience, but also it is in some ways. My Peace Corps roommate was very, all of us Peace Corps were all at that time very idealistic. Wanted to go out and save the world kind of things. So he extended, extended another year in Ethiopia, and brought his wife. He came back, he went back 00:29:00to California and got married and brought his wife back. And they lived in the capital. He taught there for that third year. And then after that, after he left Peace Corps, he joined the Center for Disease Control. He worked there, out of Atlanta for ten, fifteen years. And then decided he wanted to go back to the international experience. So he went to India to work for the World Health Organization. And while he was at the World Health Organization, he was traveling one time and he went to the source of the Ganges. And a boy fell in the river. And he jumped in to try to save him, and both of them drowned. It sucked them into the river. So that was a, I remember this but an unfortunate negative kind of experience. Because he still wanted to do those kind of things. He wanted to help people.

WILSON: And you came back, and right away went to New York City to Columbia.

PELFREY: That was my goal.

WILSON: Oh, that was your goal. Okay.

PELFREY: That was my goal. That's what I intended to do. I don't know how effective this is in terms of your tape here, but while I was in 00:30:00that junior year after I joined the Peace Corps in that ATP program, one of the guys I'd graduated from high school with had gone to Michigan State. And in my junior year, he and half a dozen other guys broke into the draft board in East Lansing, Michigan, and poured lamb's blood on all the draft board files. And the local draft board here in Lexington was, like many of the local draft boards, very conservative, and said that's anti-American. So they immediately reclassified him and drafted him in the army. So I wrote a letter of protest. Not very smart. But I wrote a letter of protest to the Lexington, at that time it was the Herald and Leader. I wrote a paper to the Lexington Herald. And it was published in the paper. And so after I came back from the Peace Corps, I came back, took my time, because Peace Corps had given us some money. So I came back slowly. Came back, went through Europe and Greece and Italy and different places.

WILSON: The thing that most of us did.

PELFREY: Right. Took about, I don't know, five or six weeks to get 00:31:00back. When I came back to the United States, it was still a month before school would start for me to go to Columbia. But I had an official letter waiting for me. I'd been reclassified as 1A. And I was supposed to report by September the fifteenth, to the army. So I went back immediately to the draft board, and met with them. I went down to meet the lady. And she was sitting across the table from me like this. She opened my file. And there's the letter to the editor right on top of my file. First thing that was there. The letter to the editor, the actual newspaper. It wasn't a photocopy. It was the actual newspaper clipping, right there on the file. And I said, "I was in the Peace Corps. I'm going to school. Both of those are deferments. If I'm in Peace Corps, I'm deferred. If I'm in graduate school, I'm deferred. I shouldn't be in the army." She said, "Well, you're not in graduate school right now. When we reclassified, you weren't in the Peace Corps. So you are in right now." So I appealed, went through the process, and got like a local lawyer I went to high school with. And long story short, I finally was notified in my last 00:32:00week of basic training that I was drafted illegally. Because if I was overseas, I had sixty days to appeal my reclassification once I received it, and my lawyer didn't know that. They never told me. But once you're in, it doesn't make a difference. Once you accept and report, you lose your appeal. Once you actually report. That's the way the legal, the way the army operates. Once you, the first day you show up, any appeal is waived. So once I was in basic training in Fort Knox, I was in the army. So I never made it to Columbia. I went to Vietnam. In the army. Went to Vietnam, served in the army for fourteen and a half months. Fourteen and a half months in Vietnam. A total of twenty-one months in the army. Fourteen and a half of that in Vietnam. In the artillery.

WILSON: So you were in combat.

PELFREY: Yeah. Oh, you bet. If you're in the army in Vietnam, there's no such thing as non-combat.


WILSON: Well, I know some people who had desk jobs. Obviously if you're in the artillery, you didn't have a desk job.

PELFREY: I had a desk job. I was an S4. They put me, the first, the only time I volunteered in the army. "Does anyone here know how to type?" So I raised my hand. Much better than shoving those round in the artillery. They put me in S4, in battalion supply. But I was still, I was all the time, there was no, that first day that I got to my assigned town was the night after the Viet Cong had bombarded camp.

WILSON: You were there at the worst time.

PELFREY: Right. I was there for two Tets. The two major Tets was the time I was there. Two major Tet offensives. They'd halfway destroyed the camp I was in the night before I got there. And the week before I left, I extended, because it was just twelve-month duty then. And I was there when Nixon began pulling them out. So I was in first, in the 677th artillery. And he started deactivating the first ninth infantry division. And since I had only been in the country ten months, I hadn't been there a year, they said, "Well, sorry, you can't go. 00:34:00You've got to go back." They put me in the second fourth artillery. So they assigned me to a different town, different camp, everything else. So I just said well, I don't want any more, I want to get out of here. I don't want to go back and serve six months stateside duty or anywhere else, because they had an early out program that you can get out if you have less than three months left in your duty, the twenty- four months. So I extended. And the week before I was supposed to do, they got hit, big bombardment again. Biggest mistake I made again. All kind of, the shells came in, within fifteen feet of me that night. Several people got seriously injured and killed and so forth that time. But I made it through.

WILSON: Who else do you know that served in the Peace Corps who also went to Vietnam?

PELFREY: I don't know anybody else. I'm sure there are a lot of them, but I don't know any of them.

WILSON: There are, I mean, I know other people. Interesting story. Did you ever know Bob Leupold at Henry Clay?


WILSON: Same thing happened to him. Peace Corps volunteer. Okay. So 00:35:00that was an interesting way to return to the US. What happened after you got out of the army?

PELFREY: Then I was four years out and I was very broken, I guess. Columbia was still there. But I totally lost interest in it at that point. The spirit, that killed the spirit, I guess, about doing that. So I said I just need to go back and start working. So I called, I got back in on a Thursday, I said I need to go back and start teaching. So I called Fayette County schools, personnel. This was in May of 1970. May of 1970.


PELFREY: And I said, "I would like to apply for a teaching job for next school year." The personnel director was Jack Wyrick. He said, "Well, you can come back, why don't you just come in and interview tomorrow. On Friday. We'll get things all set up for you." I said, "Okay. All right. I'll do it." Came back and interviewed, and they said, "Well, 00:36:00you ready to start teaching?" "Yep." "Okay. Report to Bryan Station tomorrow."


PELFREY: "We have a teacher going on maternity leave." And 1970 was the year Fayette County was on strike. Of course, I didn't know anything about it. I just got in. They extended summer. They extended six-day school days, work through Saturdays through the middle of June. So I taught from like May twentieth, twenty-first, on Saturdays, up through the middle of June, six-day weeks. And then started back, continued that again back in the fall. But by the fall then, I went to Winburn. The principal interviewed me, started there with a brand new school. I finished the summer at Bryan Station Junior High School, then taught at Winburn beginning the fall of '70, and taught there for five years.

WILSON: And then why don't you go through your sort of career stuff now, while we're talking about it. And then we'll get back to--

PELFREY: I start at Winburn, I very quickly moved into department chair position. Even though I was relatively young teacher. All the experiences that I had, the teacher saw some value for. So I moved 00:37:00into the department chair position within a couple of years. And stayed there. Then worked on a master's at UK. And then in 1975, I had finished a master's, interviewed, they'd opened, Dr. Ruth Radcliff had retired as supervisor from Fayette County. I interviewed for that position. And based upon my experience, they'd already had, when I talked to people later on, Mark Brown, Lee Mack and others, they already thought they knew who they were going to put in that position. But they were so convinced after the interview that I was the best person for the job. They didn't know anything about me. But they said that's the right person for that, so they put me as the supervisor of Fayette County based on the interview and the experience that I had, a lot of that from the Peace Corps and from the military. So I moved into that in 1975, and stayed in a supervisor position for twenty years in Fayette County. Retired from that in 1995. In the meantime, I finished my doctorate in 1982 in math education. And while still 00:38:00working, teaching at UK, and in Transylvania, and Georgetown College, night classes and some summer classes. So I moved in '95, and I wanted to work for ARSI, Appalachian Rural Systemic Initiative. Actually the first year I worked for Central Kentucky Education Coop with Steve Henderson. But then two of us left that and went to ARSI the following year. I worked for them up through currently, still doing some things with them. To do math specialist training, professional training throughout six states. Evaluating math programs, six states. Started also back in 19, late '80s, '88, '89, we developed some actual math standards developed in late '70s. NCTM standards. Fayette County is one of the first ones to really adopt the standards. And we developed a curriculum based upon the NCTM standards, without a textbook. So one time the vice president came in from, one of the publishers, and said, "Could we see your curriculum?" I showed it to him, what I had developed. Then a few months later got a call from him. He said, 00:39:00"We're getting ready to develop a middle school math program." All the programs at that point had been K-8 or 9-12. He said, "We're getting ready to start a middle school math program. Would you be interested in being on the writing team?" So they brought me in as one of the co-authors. And I'm still writing, we're putting in the fifth edition of that now, the sixth edition. Since that point in time, I've been writing books for them. That's Glencoe Publishing. And worked, after I left, I've primarily worked with ARSI up until two years ago. Then I worked for a year to give it a try at university administration at Midway College. Did not like college administration, especially for a small school. You had responsibilities not only for teaching, but also off-site campuses. They had campuses in Somerset and Prestonburg and Mayfield and all over the state that I was responsible for finding faculty for and going in and teaching in all those classes as well. There was too much to try to keep up with. I just gave up after a year. And critical shortage in Kentucky allows the teachers who 00:40:00are in critical shortage areas to come back to teach and still draw retirement. So last year I went back and taught at Scott County Middle School for a year, taught math and science. And that was kind of a unique experience, too. I was not quite expecting, I thought they'd have a lot more technology, for example, next to Toyota, and they were very short on technology. Basically could not use any computers during the school year for math or science, other than they'd have one to bring in to check out every once in a while, but nothing for student use. So the students never got to use computers the whole year. So I was disappointed with that. So I did not ask to return there. ------ ----(??) critical shortage, I probably would not have gotten one anyway. So this year I tried to retire, although people still call me, try to consult on things.

WILSON: It doesn't sound like you've really retired. What do you think the impact of Peace Corps was on your, the Peace Corps experience was on your career? I mean, you've mentioned that in terms of getting the 00:41:00supervisor's job. But just general, what do you think the impact was?

PELFREY: The biggest part of it probably was just the opportunity to grow, and grow into levels I would not have done here. If I'd gone in straight from UK, into a teaching position, I would still be teaching. Because I would never have gotten that kind of experience. I would not have gotten the experience of scheduling, of teaching other teachers, the professional kind of thing, new math, experience in handling, working with large classes and meeting individual differences, because that was unheard of in Ethiopia. Everybody came, but you had a wide variety of abilities of students in a class of forty-five. So you had to know how to handle individual differences. I would not have got that. Because at that time, the United States, everything was very much, all the different class levels. Fayette County still does that. They have basic levels and general levels and advanced levels. You don't have to differentiate instruction that much. So I had the opportunity to do that. And those kinds of 00:42:00opportunities were just, were unique. And I would not have been able to move as quickly, if any, I probably never ever would have gotten anywhere else. I certainly wouldn't have gotten to the point where I was writing curriculum, developing curriculum, developing textbooks, without that kind of experience. And basically, that's what I was doing in Ethiopia. I was writing curriculum. I had the textbook, and I had the other books that were sent to me that my parents, where I had them buy books and send books to me, textbooks. And I combined all these things together to write a curriculum to use in school, to work with the students. I could not have done that if I was here.

WILSON: What about the impact of Peace Corps on your family?

PELFREY: Between the Peace Corps and the military both, they were, at the time, they thought it was good for me to get out, too. They thought that was a good way to grow and mature. And they were happy with the situation. Not quite the same with military. They were pleased with that. They were not as pleased in 1975 when I got married. Because I got married to an Ethiopian in 1975. And my family, again, I said it 00:43:00was a very rural, not my immediate family, but all my uncles and aunts and so forth were rednecks. In polite terms. Probably not the best term. But again, that was upsetting for a lot of them.

WILSON: Well how did you meet somebody from Ethiopia? This wasn't part of your Peace Corps experience.

PELFREY: Not part of my Peace Corps experience. But one of the, again, I was still, Ethiopia was still at that time, my most important experience that I had.

WILSON: So you were still in contact with people?

PELFREY: No, well, not really. Because there wasn't the Internet then.

WILSON: That's what I was trying to think, how were you still in contact with people from Ethiopia?

PELFREY: So what I did, because I still wanted to keep contact, so what I did is I went to the, got the UK directory, picked it up, and just went through and found Ethiopian names. And I found the first, I didn't think I would go and talk to an Ethiopian girl. I thought 00:44:00that would not be, just call up and say, "I want to talk to you." So I went and found the first guy. I said, "Would it be okay if I come in and meet with you just to practice the language and talk to you?" And Sahai? says, "Sure. That would be fine." And once a week or so we'd just carry on a conversation. And after we did that for a couple of months, he said, "You don't have talk just to me." He said, "This next weekend at Cooperstown, there's going to be an all Ethiopian party. All the Ethiopians in Kentucky from all the campuses are coming to campus. And we're going to have a gathering of all the ones, there will be a hundred or so different ones from Ethiopia. From Louisville, from Midway, from Eastern and UK and all these different ones are coming. You can meet, talking to some other ones." So I was sitting there and a group of five girls walked in from Midway College. And there was one that just stood out. I started talking to her. And said would it be okay if, after I talked to her, would it be okay if we got together next weekend, went to the movie? And it started from there. So we got married, she still, she finished Midway. At that time, 00:45:00it was a two-year school. And then went from there to Berea College, and finished up her last two years. And we got married the day after she graduated. After she had actually graduated. The day after she finished. She finished in December of 1975. And the day after was when we got married. Right after she finished her classes.

WILSON: I'm going to switch the tape.

[Side a ends; side b begins.]

WILSON: Okay. So all these years I thought you met your wife in Ethiopia.

PELFREY: No. She was a student. She was a college student. I was teaching.

WILSON: Okay. Well, it still had something to do with Ethiopia, right?


WILSON: So does that mean that you, that does mean that you have connections with Ethiopia still. Not just from being a Peace Corps volunteer, but through her family.

PELFREY: Through her family, right.

WILSON: And you've been back to Ethiopia?

PELFREY: I went back once, five years later. And that was to meet her family, basically.

WILSON: Oh, okay.

PELFREY: Go back and present myself to her family, that I was 00:46:00acceptable. So I met with them. And time, also went back to Amba, the town I taught in, to visit with them for a few days. And went to the market and all that kind of things with them, and they decided that I was okay.

WILSON: And so do you have two children?

PELFREY: Two sons.

WILSON: Two sons. And have they been to Ethiopia?

PELFREY: They have not.

WILSON: They have not. Are they interested in their Ethiopian--

PELFREY: They were not until, the younger one, just in the last year, decided he would like to go.

WILSON: They're how old?

PELFREY: Twenty-eight and twenty-seven. So they're, but they hated to go anywhere with us at all. We've been to Norway and Mexico and wherever else, all the way around the world. And they never want to travel with us.

WILSON: Maybe things are changing now.

PELFREY: Well, they still don't want to travel with us. But now they're interested in Ethiopia. They decided that that's something they need to learn something more about. For a lot of reasons.

WILSON: Right. Right.

PELFREY: Marta's family was part of the royal family of Ethiopia, which was overthrown. Her father was from the Harerge., the easternmost 00:47:00part of Ethiopia was where Haile Selassie was the duke of that area before he became the emperor. After he left, Marta's grandfather was the one who replaced him in that area. He was a big shot in that area up there. So they seized, when the Derg came in in Ethiopia and the socialist revolution, they seized their property. So they had nothing left other than the home. They have their house and less than a quarter of an acre of land left. And they had hundreds of acres.

WILSON: But there's still family there? Or most of the family are--

PELFREY: Her immediate family's all here in the US. She still has, of course, all the others. But her brothers and sisters, her mother, are all here now. But there are still problems in Ethiopia. Just yesterday, the threatened, the president got defeated, refused to accept the defeat. Millions of people literally came from all over the 00:48:00country to the capital yesterday. Threatened to protest. And he said, they brought all the tanks in from the other parts of the country, put tanks around and said, "If you protest, we're just going to open fire." Because there was going to be mass, mass genocide yesterday. But the protestors backed off so we're going to have to find something else new. Still very dangerous situation. This always goes on.

WILSON: Sounds like you keep track of things pretty carefully.

PELFREY: Every time we think we might go, always something else stirs up. And we say maybe now's not a good time.

WILSON: But you have traveled all over the world since, and Peace Corps was just the beginning of getting out of Kentucky. Okay. Wow. Interesting. Because that's one of the, let's see, let me go through these questions and let's see if we've taken care of all of them. In what way, do you still have contact with anyone from the Peace Corps experience?

PELFREY: Some of the ones, some students, every once in a while, in fact, I just had a, one of my former students lives in Atlanta, and she 00:49:00asked to have, when I'd taken pictures of all my classes, and she asked me to blow up one of them into an eight by ten and mail her a picture to her. It's three of the girls. And two of the three live in Atlanta now. So I blew that picture up, mailed it to her. She was very ecstatic about that. And a few students, every once in a while I'll run into. They're hard to keep up with, whether they're in Ethiopia or here. They don't have a white pages or go back and look for.

WILSON: Yeah. You can't do that. Which makes me think, where do you have to go to get Ethiopian food besides your house? Obviously your wife--


WILSON: Ethiopian restaurants in Columbus? Is there anything any closer?

PELFREY: Well, there's one here in Lexington, but it's, she just started, but it's not very good, to tell you the, she calls it Ethiopian restaurant, but it's not. She just started it just a couple months ago.

WILSON: We don't have any here yet. Maybe that's a retirement project. (laughs) No. Okay, let's see. What international experience have you 00:50:00had since? And you've traveled a lot.

PELFREY: A lot of traveling.

WILSON: Right. A lot of travel. Any particular international experience that you look forward to in the future?

PELFREY: Probably not this stage of my life. I would like to continue traveling. And primarily--

WILSON: Where do you want to travel to?

PELFREY: I want to do mission work.

WILSON: Where?

PELFREY: To wherever, where the mission needs are. Primarily, again, in Africa. But also in Asia.

WILSON: What mission is it?

PELFREY: Just whatever particular ones, a lot of different, like the ones up here that does, Marilyn Hickey Ministries, and different ones.

WILSON: Short term kinds of things?

PELFREY: Short, primarily, yeah, primarily short term, probably.

WILSON: Doing teaching sorts of things?

PELFREY: Doing evangelism.

WILSON: Evangelism. Ah.

PELFREY: Also involves Habitat for Humanity campaigns, they're also in addition to doing. Most of the countries they go into, especially in Asia, they can't do just evangelism. They have to go in and do something else.

WILSON: Right. They have to do something else. Yeah. Right. What has 00:51:00been the impact of Peace Corps service on the way you think about the world and what's going on? You mentioned knowing what was happening in Ethiopia yesterday, which is a sign of a Peace Corps volunteer.

PELFREY: Keep track, yeah. Not just Ethiopia, but I'll go through BBC, watch that nearly every night, BBC news, on the local cable. Read. And for Ethiopia, there's a dozen websites that I keep track of. There's one that, Addis Ababa Tribune, it's an English based newspaper that's on the web. And there's other kinds of sites, I read those pretty frequently for Ethiopian news. And keep track as much as you can. Locally, there's not much in the local media that does it, so you've got to go elsewhere. So keep through that and through my in-laws, again, too, feeding me information coming out of, they live in DC, hotbed of international programs. So I get a lot of information 00:52:00from them, because we talk to them, nearly every day somebody, in-laws. Talk on the phone to them. So there's always daily, daily briefings.

WILSON: On what's going on in Ethiopia. What do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps has been, generally?

PELFREY: On me or on everything?

WILSON: Oh, just generally. Peace Corps is going to be forty-five years old come March.

PELFREY: Yeah. Again, I've kept less awareness of what's happened with Peace Corps than I have with the countries themselves in recent years. So I'm not sure what recently, there have been a lot of political changes over the years. So I'm not sure of the current effects, but from my perspective if it still continues to do the kinds of things, opportunities provided for me, it was an education you can't get anywhere else. You can't buy that kind of education. The opportunities provided to learn-- not the opportunities that 00:53:00doors open, but just the opportunities to learn about other people, and how people think. How people relate to each other. And the love that other people have for everybody else. Regardless whether you're the ugly American or the rich American, they don't see it that way. The people don't see us that way. You hear all these stories in the media. But when you're going to a village, going to a town, you're a person. And it doesn't make any difference if you're white or black or whatever it might be, you're still a person. And we don't have it here in the United States. You don't have that openness and the warmth that in Ethiopia, in particular, some of the most loving people in the world. They would do anything. Absolutely without question, if you ask for something, they would give it to you. If it was the last dime they had, they'd give it to you. If it was the last bread, they would give it to you. When you leave, if you came by and visit them. They would serve the last slice of bread to you. (laughs) And that's just 00:54:00not going to happen anywhere else. I mean, in the United States. Two nights ago, I had a guy came in, one of my high school buddies brought in a friend, one of his friends from Kenya that I had not met. And they just wanted to talk. This guy from Kenya was talking about that my friend's son was my godson, who's a doctor in Wilmore. And he said, "Is Kenya a pagan country?" He asked this guy. He said, "Is Kenya a pagan country?" The guy John said, "Is Kenya a pagan country? Let me tell you. The United States, can you talk about God in schools? Can you use the Bible in schools? Can you pray in schools? In Kenya, from the time we start school, the Bible is on our desk every day. We pray every day in classrooms. We talk about God every day in classrooms. And here you call yourselves a Christian nation, the United States. And God is not anywhere. You can't do it. You can't even talk about 00:55:00it constitutionally, the course of rule, you can't do all these kinds of things." He said, "Now which one of us is pagan?"

WILSON: What do you think the Peace Corps' role should be today? I mean, you've had both the military and the Peace Corps experience. In a time when--

PELFREY: Sure. The same friend that I talked about, his second son has had a lot of problems in getting settled in to what he wanted to do. He went to West Point, spent a year there before he had to make a commitment. He decided he didn't want to do it after all. He went to Scotland, studied economics at Edinburgh University. He went to Australia and studied at James Bond University, I think it's in Melbourne. He couldn't settle on what he wanted to do with his life. So I said, and he went to New Zealand to do a project and so forth. 00:56:00But he went to, I don't know, half a dozen colleges. UK. Ended up at UK for a while. I said, "Well, what you need to do is go in the Peace Corps. And that will make you, you'll grow up." He was twenty, I guess he's close to thirty now. But he's never got his life together. So he went in and took my advice. And he went to Peace Corps and he's now down in Colombia. And I talked to his father again the other night when he was home, and says he's decided that Peace Corps is absolutely the best thing he's ever done in his life. He's been there since, maybe six months now. Five or six months. He's already made the decision he's going to extend a third year. And then he's going to request to join the Peace Corps staff. And make Peace Corps, or at least--

WILSON: So the five years you can do it. (laughs)

PELFREY: Make that as long as he can. And then go from that into NGO type work. And I think that's the ultimate goal of the Peace Corps. 00:57:00Not necessarily get that person devoted and committed to, helps, but serve the world with whatever gifts that we have. Go back and serve. And whether it's agriculture or education or medicine or law, whatever it might be, we have some talents. The United States in not completely void of some things. We don't have a lot of humanity, a lot of us. But the ones of us who do, you can make use of the humanity and teach the skills that we have.

WILSON: Is there a question I didn't ask you that you want to answer?

PELFREY: (laughs) That pretty well covers, all the thirty interviews you've done so far, I think you've got everything pretty well together.

WILSON: Thanks.

[End of interview.]