Ed Glab during his Peace Corps volunteer stint.
In 1963, Ed Glab, director, Knight Ridder Center for Excellence in Management in the College of Business Administration, was an idealistic young man one-month short of his 21st birthday and devastated by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He turned that desolation into a positive commitment: to join the Peace Corps. Today, he continues to marvel at the impact the experience has had on his life.
“After Kennedy’s death, I thought of his call that we ask what we could do for our country. When a former Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) turned recruiter came to my campus in the dead of a frigid Chicago winter sporting a golden suntan, I said to myself, ‘Self, where do I sign up to serve my country and get a suntan like that?’ The answer turned out to be Puerto Rico and Perú.”
After applying in 1963, he was sent to Puerto Rico in the summer of 1964 for training and a suntan and served as a PCV in Perú from 1965-67, placing him among the earliest volunteers and under the leadership of Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps director.
Poverty yields riches.
During his two years in Perú, he lived without running water or electricity but with a hammer by his bedside to fend off rats and a U.S. Army issue can of DDT-laced talcum powder for the ever-present fleas.
“I lived among the very poor in front of the local garbage dump,” he said. “My Perúvian friends said the area was very dangerous, but it turned out to be both safe and friendly.”
He resided in a “barriada” (squatter slum settlement) on the outskirts of Lima. Despite their daily struggle to survive, the inhabitants felt they had improved their lot compared to the rural poverty they had endured in the Andean mountains. They lived with dignity and optimism, according to Glab.
“I worked with the U.S. Ambassador’s Small Projects program to build one-room libraries, clinics, schools, and bridges,” he said. “The local communities always provided the construction labor, while the PCVs furnished the expertise and materials. The construction was basic and low-cost, but had a high impact on the lives of the people in these communities.”
He also started a nutrition/health program and a day-care summer camp for the children of his “barriada.”
During his stint, Glab learned to speak Spanish fluently and to love the culture and people of Perú. The Peace Corps in Perú recognized him as a model volunteer and the U.S. Ambassador to Perú gave him a special commendation for his work. His service also led to a scholarship for his graduate education.
“I never imagined or expected that by volunteering two years of my life, I would receive a lifetime of benefits,” he said.
Corporate careers and the Peace Corps are not mutually exclusive.
Many volunteers—Glab included—subsequently followed the corporate path, gravitating, as he did, to international business. He is in the process of inviting a number of them from around the country to speak at Florida International University as part of the Wertheim Lecture series.
“Some former Peace Corps volunteers who are now in business include W. Frank Fountain Sr., vice president, Daimler Chrysler; and Robert Haas, chairman of the board, Levi Strauss & Co., among others,” he said. “It will be an opportunity for them to discuss how the Peace Corps affected their international business careers.”