Creative Connections: Peace Corps trail leads to Nat’l Peace Corps Day

Published 9:07 am Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Creative Connections by Sara Aeikens

Sara Aeikens is an Albert Lea resident.

The trail of my writing began with seeing my mother’s journal by her nightstand and knowing that she wrote in it daily. I recall that after leaving home to attend college, my father typed me weekly letters, as he had continued to do with his own parents as long as they lived. I wrote for my high school newspaper as well as those of the colleges I attended.

Sara Aeikens

Sara Aeikens

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When I married and moved to my present home in Albert Lea, I began writing for the local paper and was paid by the column inch. As I raised our child with my husband, I choose to write less often and on a volunteer basis, deciding to write a column published about every other month, as I’m doing now.

Since joining the Peace Corps immediately after college graduation, I continued my writing with letters to my folks for two years, from rural Venezuela. The Peace Corps experience inspired me to travel to a foreign country yearly, which gave me tons of topics to share in my newspaper articles.

My travels often influenced my selection of a theme, and I sometimes could insert something about a Peace Corps connection. I’ve written about the CEO of the National Peace Corps Association contacting me with a personal visit to Albert Lea. Because of technology, he tracked Peace Corps experiences nationwide including my columns. His visit resulted in a newspaper photo with him and a discussion of Peace Corps history and experiences with several former Peace Corps volunteers.

The next day, I abruptly changed my plans, and two of us women went to a statewide Peace Corps picnic near Ft. Snelling in the Twin Cities that the CEO was attending. At the picnic I ran into author Patrick O’Leary, originally from Freeborn County, and he was writing a book about his Peace Corps adventures called “From Freeborn to Freetown.”  I was amazed to reconnect with him.

Around the time his book was published, O’Leary telephoned me, and I was curious to compare his experiences with mine. Within a day, an aunt of his in our community phoned me, as she does monthly, to inform me of a women’s educational meeting. She also just happened to mention a workshop she was attending that day at Thorne Crest Senior Living Community, so I impulsively decided to go. After the workshop and a short discussion with another of Patrick’s relatives who works there, the latter fetched the copy of his book she had, and I sat in the dining room and read most of the several hundred pages. Somewhere shortly after this session, the book was delivered to our local newspaper office in hopes they might review it.

My next pathway to follow was to phone the National Peace Corps office to relate how relevant, as a former volunteer, I considered this book.  I also happened to mention that I have a goal of supporting a National Peace Corps Day and was greatly taken aback when I was informed that President John F. Kennedy had already pronounced March 1 as that special day. I figured I must have forgotten that several decades ago!

Wouldn’t it be great to look at our phone or computer calendars and have that date pop up to remind us to honor those several hundred-plus who lost their life while in the service of their country, as well as the rest of the 250,000-plus U.S. Peace Corps volunteers serving since the program began.

I have been told over 6,000 Peace Corps volunteers from Minnesota have served and I am acquainted with about a half dozen living in Freeborn County. This past week someone suggested to me that they’d like to see a historical presentation by local Peace Corps volunteers, and I responded with enthusiasm.  Looks like I’ve got another goal — using my writing to promote peace.