July 10, 2003 - The Oregonian: Zack Merrill gave but was taken away

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2003: July 2003 Peace Corps Headlines: July 23, 2003 - Peace Corps Press Release: Updated to Investigation on death of PCV Zachary Merrill : July 10, 2003 - The Oregonian: Zack Merrill gave but was taken away

By Admin1 (admin) on Friday, July 11, 2003 - 9:58 am: Edit Post

Zack Merrill gave but was taken away

Read and comment on this story from The Oregonian on Zack Merrill who was found dead Monday in Mali, the western African nation where he had worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer at:

This athlete gave but was taken away*

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This athlete gave but was taken away

Brian Meehan


W e called him Cappy.

My friend Bob Santella coined the nickname during the regular season. Zach Merrill played for Santella's Little League team. The lanky boy was all heart and ears.

Santella recognized Zach's leadership. The brainy outfielder was a teammate you wanted next to you in a bind. Bob named him captain, then dubbed him Cappy.

The year was 1992 and I was Bob's assistant coach on the Lake Oswego All-Star team competing in the District 4 tournament at Alpenrose. Zach was our reliable right fielder.

He saved us in the first game against our crosstown rival, Waluga Little League. He snared a line drive with two aboard, then made a diving catch past the right field line to get us out of a jam.

A few days later, Zach made the last out when Forest Grove eliminated us. He struck out and fell into tears. I tried to console him, but the words flashed hollow. The next morning, I called his house.

"What happened this morning, Zach?" I asked.

"What?" said the 12-year-old.

"That big old sun came on up, didn't it?" I said.

"Thanks for coaching me, Mr. Meehan," Zach replied.

Eleven years later, the sun won't rise again for Zach Merrill. The 23-year-old Northwestern University graduate was found dead Monday in Mali, the western African nation where he had worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer.

His family is awaiting the results of a Peace Corps investigation and an autopsy. Andy and Karen Merrill and Zach's brother, Tim, are in shock.

Zach joined the Peace Corps after graduating from the Medill School of Journalism. He had studied French for 10 years, and French West Africa seemed the right place. When he arrived in Kampolosso, a poor village in Mali's southern savanna, he discovered no one spoke French. It didn't faze Zach, who often entertained friends by parroting their words -- backward. He soon was speaking Bambara, the local tongue.

The Muslim village lacked power and running water. Zach took a bucket bath twice a day and struggled with the local staple, a millet gruel. His dog got most of his rations.

For two years, he worked to build a community garden, hoping to relieve rampant malnutrition. He erected fences to keep out the goats and led the work to hand dig two 25-meter wells.

"The people didn't want Zach down in the hole," said his mother, Karen. "They didn't want anything to happen to him."

But of course, Zach took his turn digging in the dark.

You can sometimes glimpse character in the way an athlete performs. Zach played with joy and no fear.

"As a human being, he always gave 100 percent," said Sara Sather, his youth pastor at Christ Church in Lake Oswego. "There was nothing selfish about him. He was just doing this for the sake of others."

T he Episcopal congregation prayed every Sunday for two Peace Corps volunteers, Zach and my daughter, Katie, who returned last week after three years in Central America. Why Katie came home and Zach didn't is a mystery I cannot fathom.

But I do know this: I loved Cappy. How could you not love someone so true and good. When I heard he was entering the Peace Corps, I was not surprised. Zach was a giver.

He didn't know many students when he enrolled at Lake Oswego High School. After Christmas vacation his freshman year, he came home from school looking glum. His mother asked what was wrong. "I think I could go through four years there and no one would know who I was," he said.

At graduation, his classmates voted Zach "most admired student."

He lived briefly, 23 sweet years, but for the villagers in faraway Mali, for the disabled adults he mentored in college, for his family and all of us who knew him when, Zach Merrill made such a wonderful difference. The world is lesser today without Cappy. Brian Meehan, 503-221-4341; brianmeehan@news.oregonian.com

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mali; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Obituaries



By bankass.com on Monday, July 14, 2003 - 11:04 pm: Edit Post

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