Saving Stories: Peace Corps @ 60, Kentuckians Remember Answering Kennedy's Call

Mar 26, 2021

Kentuckians Angene Hopkins Wilson and Jack Wilson were among the first Peace Corps Volunteers sent to Liberia in 1962
Credit photo provided

March 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the start of the Peace Corps and in this latest edition of WUKY's award winning history series Saving Stories, Doug Boyd with the Nunn Center for Oral History in the UK Libraries shares audio from a Kentuckian who was one of the program's earliest participants. Angene Hopkins Wilson and her then fiancee Jack Hopkins got accepted into the program and in 1962 were sent to Liberia. Angene talks about what happened next.

On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy issued an executive order establishing the Peace Corps as a federal agency within the State Department. 

By June, 1961 the Peace corps had received about 11,000 completed applications .

By September of 1961, Kennedy signed legislation that gave permanence to the Peace Corps.

By December, 1961 over 500 Peace Corps Volunteers were serving in 9 countries.  

Angene Hopkins and Jack Wilson were a young couple engaged to be married.  Although they had originally supported Nixon in the campaign, they were moved by Kennedy’s announcement and were accepted into the program in 1961 but at that time Jack had just started a Masters Degree at Michigan State University, Angene had begun a teaching job.  So they deferred, but in 1962 they were given the opportunity to go again.  This time they dropped everything and went. 

In this oral history interview conducted in 2004, Angene Wilson describes their the process joining the Peace Corps in 1962 and getting ready to be the first group to serve in Liberia.

Over 240,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 143 countries. 

Angene and Jack Wilson conducted nearly 100 oral history interviews with returned peace Corps volunteers from Kentucky and published a book called Voices from the Peace Corps.  To commemorate the anniversary this year, It is being released in paperback this summer. 

In 2020 The Nunn Center partnered with the national Returned Peace Corps volunteers oral history project and is the new home for the project moving forward.  We interviewed nearly 200 returned peace corps volunteers in the past 9 months including 50 volunteers who were evacuated because of COVID-19.  

There are some incredible stories in this collection.