Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Gary Garriott, March 17, 2021

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Index
00:00:00 - Early focus on joining Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Hello. Today is March 17, 2021.

Segment Synopsis: Garriott grew up in Wisconsin and was a stamp collector and avid ham radio operator, which piqued his interest in international affairs. He studied electrical engineering at Valparaiso University with the intent to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural electrification project in Ecuador. As a student, he founded a Peace Corps recruitment committee. Between his junior and senior years, he worked for an electrical power company in Chicago. In school, he didn't study Spanish and hadn't traveled outside of a trip to Canada and trips around the U.S.

Keywords: Early influences in Peace Corps; Electrical engineering; Ham radio operators; Rural electrification projects; Stamp collectors; Valparaiso University; Wisconsin

Subjects: Childhood; College students.; Peace Corps (U.S.); Universities and colleges.; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Wisconsin
Map Coordinates: 44.6243, -89.9941
GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
GPS: Canada
Map Coordinates: 60, -110
00:08:25 - The role of the Vietnam War and Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Now this was the height of the Vietnam War era.

Segment Synopsis: The war effort affected Garriott in that his conservative community at home honored military service. During Peace Corps training, he was on a former dude ranch in Montana, and, while he was there, he was notified that he had to have his draft physical exam. He expected to get a 2-year deferment from his draft board but he had to appeal it at the state level. Peace Corps took his case to the presidential level where he got a 1-year deferment. Men in his group didn't talk about getting a deferment as a reason to join.

Keywords: Appeal; Conservative community; Draft deferments; Dude ranches; Military service; Montana; Physical examinations; Presidential level; Vietnam War

Subjects: Peace Corps (U.S.); Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Vietnam
Map Coordinates: 16, 108
00:11:42 - Pre-service training

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh, and you said you did your training in, uh, in Montana?

Segment Synopsis: Garriott's pre-service training was held on a former dude ranch in Big Timber used by Montana State University to work with local ranchers. Learning Spanish grammar stands out to him as having been very important. Those in the electrification program spent a month in Taos, New Mexico working for the Kit Carson Cooperative where they were taught to climb poles with spikes on their shoes. In Montana, the group was to do "walk-abouts." He hitchhiked to the Crow Indian Reservation where he gained a different perspective on Native American history. During training, the ambassador from Ecuador visited the group. The language teachers were from Mexico. Several RPCV's role-played situations with the group. The medical trainers talked about the "kissing disease" caused by an insect. Some group members played guitars and sang in "mini-hootenannies," and the members played volleyball together.

Keywords: "Walk-abouts"; Ambassador from Ecuador; Big Timber (Mont.); Crow Indian Reservation; Dude ranches; Hootenannies; Kit Carson Cooperative; Montana State University; Pre-service training in Montana; Role playing; Spanish (Language); Spanish grammar; Taos (N.M.)

Subjects: Ecuador; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Big Timber (Mont.)
Map Coordinates: 45.833333, -109.950278
GPS: Taos (N.M.)
Map Coordinates: 36.393889, -105.576667
GPS: Crow Indian Reservation
Map Coordinates: 45.385556, -107.746667
00:19:20 - Make-up of his cohort

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And tell me about your group.

Segment Synopsis: Members of Garriott's group came from all over the U.S., with a predominance from the West Coast. Rural development included teachers, health, and electrification. He talks about other volunteers' attitudes.

Keywords: "Wasp-ish"; Rural development; West Coast

Subjects: Ecuador; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

00:20:49 - Arrival in Ecuador and finding his site

Play segment

Partial Transcript: You completed training, and they put you on a plane and sent you to Ecuador.

Segment Synopsis: During his first week in Quito, Ecuador, Garriott talked on the phone with someone, which was a test of his language proficiency. He had meetings with Rural Electric Institute, they had an audience with the American ambassador, and they had meetings with other Volunteers. After about a week, he and others were sent to Santo Domingo, Ecuador for additional technical training. Garriott was supposed to go to Quevedo but actually went to Gualaquiza, a village south of Cuenca, to get an electrical plant online and to extend electrical service in that area. He chose to stay for the duration of his service, which was an option for Volunteers at that point. He says that all four years were marvelous experiences; it felt like summer camp.

Keywords: American ambassadors; Chose to stay; Gualaquiza (Ecuador); Instituto Ecuatoriano de Electrificacion (INECEL); Quevedo (Ecuador); Quito (Ecuador); Rural Electrical Institute; Santo Domingo (Ecuador)

Subjects: Ecuador; Language and languages; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Quito (Ecuador)
Map Coordinates: -0.22, -78.5125
GPS: Santo Domingo (Ecuador)
Map Coordinates: -0.254167, -79.171944
GPS: Gualaquiza (Ecuador)
Map Coordinates: -3.38, -78.58
00:27:46 - Living situation

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Tell me about, about the community. How big was it?

Segment Synopsis: Garriott lived in a town of about 1200 farmers raising cattle, an area surrounded by Indigenous people with whom he had a project. There was a hospital staffed with nuns and a doctor. Some residents' ancestors migrated from northern Ecuador, while others were Shuar, an Indigenous people. Garriott lived in 2 rooms in a building with an outdoor latrine and a village shower. He made breakfast and lunch and, for dinner, he went to a small restaurant nearby. Another woman did his laundry.

Keywords: "Modest living"; Cattle; Hospitals; Indigenous people; Living arrangements; Shuar

Subjects: Ecuador; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
00:32:01 - Work at the hydroelectric plant

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And tell me about your, your job, then.

Segment Synopsis: Garriott worked at the electrical plant and supervised the linemen who kept the lines operating. One time, Garriott rushed to the hydroplant because the town councilmen thought that the plant's operations were being sabotaged. The issue was insufficient flow of water into the plant. After cleaning out the grates that caught debris from upstream, the water flowed and electricity returned. No one was arrested. Garriott learned that he could learn a lot from others. One of his assignments was to extend electrical service, which meant running new power lines which are always under great tension in order to work. Garriott was told that he'd be given a tool called a "come along," which would, when affixed, pull the wires taut. He never got one from Quito; he didn't know what to do. One of his Ecuadoran colleagues solved the problem. People were very resourceful. Garriott learned that there are solutions to problems and that he didn't have "to be the arbiter of those solutions." It was a joint process. Another project was building a sawmill that would be electrified. When the motor for the mill arrived, there were no instructions or schematic on how to get it running. Garriott found a solution.

Keywords: "Come along" tool; Debris; Electrical plants; Grates; Hydroelectric plants; Insufficient water flow; Learning from others; Linemen; Motors; Resourceful; Sawmills

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Ecuador; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
00:42:20 - Setting up a local radio station

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So tell me about your, um, relationships with, um, the, the local people there.

Segment Synopsis: Garriott had difficulty speaking Spanish but people were patient with him and they taught him. He participated in the Carnival festivities where he got soaked with water from balloons. A member of the town council once told him that, if he wanted "to live with us, you have to learn to drink with us." The sugary whiskey was potent. He attended mass occasionally; a padre permitted him to use his two-way radio from Peace Corps in the mission, allowing people to connect with others. The radio became a radio station. "Actions 71" were local people who helped others in need and Garriott attended its meetings. He felt accepted into the community. One of its projects entailed using the radio as a broadcast station set up in Garriott's room. A listener heard that Garriott was going to Quito and came into the village asking him if he could take her two daughters with muscular dystrophy to Quito for treatment. The girls and their mother went into the city where Peace Corps staff's families found an apartment where they could stay while the girls got physical therapy. During a visit to the village much later, Garriott saw one of the girls who seemed to have improved. It became a community outreach project. Garriott was instrumental in establishing a local radio station using a switchboard from the U.S. Using the switchboard, he got a phone system set up for the village in conjunction with a telegram operator. Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA) in the U.S. supplied the switchboard; the phones were procured from Army Surplus in Indianapolis. The system was named after the dean of the School of Engineering at Valparaiso University; Garriott's professor there attended the inauguration of this local phone system. Serendipity has played a large part of his life.

Keywords: Actions 71; Carnival festivities; Integration into the community; Muscular dystrophy; Physical therapy; Radio stations; Serendipity; Switchboards; Telegram operators; Telephones; Two-way radios; Valparaiso University; Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA); Water balloons; Whiskey

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Ecuador; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
01:02:19 - Acceptance into the community

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Now were you the only Volunteer in, in that area?

Segment Synopsis: Garriott, at that time, was the only Volunteer in the community. Another Volunteer visited from time to time when his work brought him close-by. Garriott felt that he got ample support from Peace Corps headquarters. What Garriott learned over his four years of service was that he couldn't become a native person so he did enjoy socializing with other Volunteers in Cuenca. When Volunteers get together, there is an immediate bond or "click" that "very few people have." He didn't feel lonely. A townsperson told him that he should formally join the community with some land and a house, and marry "the queen of the town." He felt very accepted.

Keywords: "Queen of the town"; Becoming a part of the community; Being accepted by the community; Immediate bonds; Not lonely; Support from Peace Corps; Townspeople

Subjects: Acculturation; Culture; Ecuador; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
01:06:25 - Other projects

Play segment

Partial Transcript: I, I do want to talk about one other project though, if it's okay.

Segment Synopsis: Another project Garriott worked on involved the local hospital. A nun who worked there introduced Garriott to Patrisio, a young child with a growth on his neck which was suspected to be malignant. On a trip to Quito, Garriott described this growth to the Peace Corps doctor who asked to see this child. However, the boy's parents returned to the jungle; Garriott found his hut, but, the boy had died. Garriott sent photos of Patrisio to his parents who were chiropractors. They suggested that Garriott speak to local church groups in Wisconsin, collected money that was matched by the Lutheran insurance company, and used the money to fly Garriott's parents to the village, along with other Volunteers, and inaugurated the opening of a clinic. In a visit in 1995, the woman who opened the clinic was still working in medicine. Garriott changed the lives of many people. After giving a slide show to the churches in Wisconsin, people would approach Garriott's parents, asking if they were having trouble with the draft board; few young men got deferments. That local board turned down his request for another deferment, so he wrote letters to the editors at media outlets describing his Peace Corps work and its effects, asking people to write to this draft board which was inundated with letters and calls which angered the board even more; he was drafted as a result of the letters. He and his parents hired a lawyer to rescind his draft notice which, in the end, it was. And, shortly thereafter, President Nixon did away with the draft and Garriott was free and he could complete his work in Ecuador, which included writing a grant proposal to USAID to replace the rotting electrical poles. He got money to build concrete poles, which the community people did on their own. In fact, the director of USAID visited Gualaquiza to see this project. Garriott learned that he collaborated well with other people in an international setting. When Garriott left, he realized that it was time for "something new" in his life, partly because of a very serious bus accident in the Andes. Fortunately, he was seated in the center of the bus; he had an infected injury.

Keywords: Chiropractors; Clinics; Draft board; Draft deferments; Growth; Hospitals; Letters and calls; Lutheran church groups; Media outlets; Rotting electrical poles; Serious bus accidents; USAID grant; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Young boys

Subjects: Acculturation; Community health services; Culture; Ecuador; Intercultural communication; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Public health; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Andes Mountains
Map Coordinates: -32, -70
GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
01:21:12 - Current project in retirement

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And the really interesting thing for me right now--

Segment Synopsis: Garriott got friend requests on Facebook from people in Gualaquiza, so decided to digitize his slides from his Peace Corps experience and posted them on Facebook. This is a current project. He feels that he continues to make a contribution to the community by bringing its pictorial history to it.

Keywords: Digitize pictures; Facebook; Gualaquiza (Ecuador); Pictorial history of the community; Third Goal

Subjects: Ecuador; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Gualaquiza (Ecuador)
Map Coordinates: -3.38, -78.58
01:25:52 - Work with Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA)

Play segment

Partial Transcript: And you, you mentioned--earlier you mentioned this organization, um--was it VITA or VITA technical assistance?

Segment Synopsis: For about 20 years, Garriott worked for VITA in the area of renewable energy. He was aware of ham radio groups connected using low-orbiting satellites made by the amateur operators. He brought together people, acquired permission from the FCC to do the project, and ran experiments in two-way email communication. This was not a commercial success but it was helpful to those who used it, including airplanes assembled in Tanzania and their quality control assurances conducted using this system. The planes were used to transport kids with AIDS to treatment centers. This was a major project while Garriott worked at VITA. Garriott had a weekly program on Voice of America interviewing people involved in various technical projects, eliciting requests for more information from listeners which VITA provided. In reflecting on his Peace Corps experiences, Garriott tells people that "you never know what will happen on the way to the market." On his way to the market in Cuenca, Garriott noticed a man sitting on a bench who was bleeding; he got a taxi, took him to the hospital, and spent the day there until the man was discharged. Such situations kept him "thinking in the present." "There are times in life when you have to allow for the unexpected and roll with it."

Keywords: Allow for the unexpected; Deal with the unexpected; Federal Communications Commission (FCC); Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS); Low-orbiting satellites; Markets; Tanzania; Technical projects; Two-way communication; Voice of America; Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA); Work with VITA

Subjects: Acculturation; Ecuador; Interpersonal relations; Lifestyles; Manners and customs; Peace Corps (U.S.); Peace Corps (U.S.)--Ecuador; Voluntarism; Volunteers

GPS: Tanzania
Map Coordinates: -6, 35
GPS: Ecuador
Map Coordinates: -2, -77.5
01:38:19 - Reflections on Peace Corps

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Um--(laughs)--is there anything, anything else you'd like to add?

Segment Synopsis: Garriott hopes that Peace Corps comes back and expands after the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years are enough to change your view of the world. "We're all in this together and can learn from one another." People interacting with people is a "big plus for the world."

Keywords: Change view of world; Expand; Worldviews

Subjects: Interpersonal relations; Peace Corps (U.S.); Voluntarism; Volunteers