June 30, 2003 - Fairbanks Daily Miner: Tony Gasbarro wins Lillian Carter Award
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June 30, 2003 - Fairbanks Daily Miner: Tony Gasbarro wins Lillian Carter Award
Tony Gasbarro wins Lillian Carter Award
Caption: Sam Harrel/News-Miner VOLUNTEER HONORED--Tony Gasbarro sits in the living room of his Goldstream Valley home May 29. For his Peace Corps work in El Salvador, Gasbarro is the first national recipient of the Lillian Carter Award from the National Peace Corps.
Read and comment on this story from the Fairbanks Daily Miner on Returned Peace Corps volunteer Tony Gasbarro who was awarded the Lillian Carter Award to outstanding senior RPCV by Former President Jimmy Carter at the Carter Center. The Lillian Carter Award recognizes an outstanding Peace Corps volunteer who, at the time of service, was age 50 or older and who has demonstrated a commitment to the Peace Corps’ third goal: to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Read the story at:
Helping the world once again*
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Helping the world once again
By MARY BETH SMETZER, Staff Writer
Tony Gasbarro's Fairbanks friends are not surprised he was honored with the Lillian Carter Award last week in Atlanta, presented by former President Jimmy Carter at a special Peace Corps ceremony
"A lot of people invest in themselves and for themselves, and Tony invests himself in others and for their futures," said longtime friend Connie Stricker.
The biennial award recognizes Peace Corps volunteers over 50 who actively pursue the Peace Corps' third goal of promoting a better understanding of other people on the part of Americans.
"Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Tony has really taken that as sort of a model," Stricker said. "He's one of the few people I know who has tried to grow and develop, and tries to understand both sides of an issue. It oftentimes puts him in a very difficult situation."
Gasbarro's association with the Peace Corps began in 1962 when, as a recent graduate of Colorado State University, he put his forestry degree to work as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic.
In 1996, more than three decades later, following an academic career at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and retirement, Gasbarro, at age 57, re-upped.
This time the Peace Corps assigned him to El Montanona, a remote mountain village in El Salvador, for a two-year stint teaching forestry skills and maintenance to villagers.
"It's the best thing I ever did," Gasbarro said.
An avid hiker, the decision to rejoin the Peace Corps came together during one of Gasbarro's post-retirement rambles on the trails behind West Ridge when he realized there was something within himself that needed to be satisfied.
"It was getting out and working with the poor to exercise that function in me that has always been there," he explained.
Gasbarro said his decision to volunteer for a second Peace Corps assignment was based on his previous experience.
"I knew some of those people in Third World countries and the suffering they go through," he said.
Gasbarro has never looked back.
Accepted again into Peace Corps ranks, Gasbarro described his El Salvador assignment as "perfect."
He worked directly with local farmers surrounded by 800 acres of pine forest in the mountains, teaching better soil conservation methods.
"As you live in these communities, you get more involved with people," he said.
Gasbarro also began to seriously study Spanish and continues to study and read in Spanish. The works of Isabella Allende are among his favorites.
Not surprisingly, Gasbarro's personal hero is noted humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who worked in the Congo for half a century.
Gasbarro shares the same empathy for those with very little as Schweitzer did, and sees his role in life as continuing to work with the poor
Teacher Carolyn Gray, also a returned Peace Corps volunteer, knows Gasbarro through the Northern Alaska Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, which Gasbarro helped organize, and as an occasional co-instructor for her Spanish classes.
Gray was one of 11 local people who recommended Gasbarro for the award, explaining "He is as dedicated as a priest to the cause of development. So many people don't want to have to deal with it. He understands the whole economic picture for development. He is willing to analyze and doesn't jump to conclusions."
In the five years since his return, Gasbarro has been actively involved in promoting development, educational and cross-cultural projects in El Salvador. He also continues to follow the progress of village families and see to the schooling of children in the area.
Raised in Rhode Island as the oldest of three children of Italian heritage, Gasbarro developed a love of the outdoors at an early age.
"My mother couldn't handle us," he said. When he was 5 years old, he was sent to a camp in New Hampshire. The summerlong camp sessions recurred every year until Gasbarro was a junior in high school. They instilled in him a love of nature and solitude.
"I was always prone to want solitude in a spiritual sense," he said. He decided to pursue forestry studies rather than enter the seminary.
"I always envisioned a life of peace and quiet nature."
Despite his need for solitude, Gasbarro doesn't shun people.
"I love to interact with people," he said, adding, "as long as I am able to come back and just relax."
Between his activities here and in El Salvador, Gasbarro manages to attain that lifestyle. He quietly rekindles his energy in a cozy, simple home tucked among the trees in Goldstream Valley.
Bookshelves line the living room walls, filled with philosophical and spiritual texts, and he spends a great deal of time outdoors, hiking and bird watching.
Although Gasbarro doesn't adhere to a particular religious belief, he can usually be found with a religious book in hand. Lately he has been reading the writings of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Xlhat Hanh, and "The Battle for God," by Karen Armstrong, an ex-nun.
One of Tony's most recent endeavors was taking Alaska teachers to El Salvador in December to teach a three-week workshop helping 15 El Salvador teachers improve their English skills.
He has also been involved with developing a Masters International Program at UAF as a partner with the Peace Corps.
The program, expected to be initiated in the fall, involves the School of Agriculture and Land Resources Management and the College of Rural Development. Gasbarro will serve as the volunteer UAF coordinator.
Students accepted into the master's program as well as the Peace Corps will take one year's worth of courses at UAF, go for a two-year related Peace Corps assignment and, upon return to UAF, complete course work and a project or thesis for their degree.
In addition to his frequent trips back to El Salvador, Tony is a board member of the Denver-based Project El Salvador where he has set up a scholarship fund primarily for young women to attend local public schools through high school.
For rural children, this often means boarding in a nearby city. Gasbarro raises $15,000 annually to support 130 students.
John Fox Jr., another longtime friend, said his forestry colleague lives a very organized and scheduled life and couldn't understand how Fox could function with a wife and four children.
"He recently acted as a guide for a Salvadoran exchange student and he was quite beside himself about the teenage scene and having to factor her into his schedule," Fox said. "It set him into a bit of a tizzy. I had to chuckle at that. After this taste of adolescent mentoring, he felt he was losing control of his organized life."
Fox said Gasbarro's many-faceted attributes and talents include sincerity, integrity, loyalty thoughtfulness, spirituality and an unceasing motivation to genuinely help people.
"Whatever he gets involved in, he is committed to He is always looking to how he can contribute and improve things."
On a recent trip to El Salvador, Gasbarro said he will never forget a meeting attended by school officials, parents and students talking about education and the dismal job prospects after graduation.
A young girl spoke up, he said, saying she understood that there was a good possibility she might not find a job, then added, "But at least I'll be a better mother.
Mary Beth Smetzer can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7546.
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