July 30, 2003 - The Oregonian: Parents recall Peace Corps Volunteer Zack Merrill

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 30, 2003 - The Oregonian: Parents recall Peace Corps Volunteer Zack Merrill

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, July 30, 2003 - 10:06 am: Edit Post

Parents recall Peace Corps Volunteer Zack Merrill

According to his fellow volunteers in Mali, Zack had been the support person for many other volunteers and had always been the one to light up a room with his humor.

Read and comment on this story from the Oregonian on Peace Corps Volunteer Zack Merrill who died in Mali earlier this month at:

Parents recall 'truly happy' son serving in Mali*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Parents recall 'truly happy' son serving in Mali


Zack Merrill reveled in stormy days in Mali because they reminded him of home in Oregon.

But he seemed far from homesick.

The Peace Corps volunteer of nearly two years embraced physical labor -- such as lugging 50-pound bricks into a 65-foot hole as he taught the men of an 800-person village how to build two wells.

The 23-year-old loved visiting the market, where he could check out the latest deliveries of clothing that nobody wanted in America. Malians call them "dead foreigners' clothes" because no one in their right mind would discard such perfectly good garb, his parents say.

He laughed when his Malian host mother wrapped little rocks in candy wrappers to play tricks on the local kids. A 6-foot-1 vegetarian, he indulged in cheese -- once eating two large blocks in one sitting.

His parents say the Lake Oswego High and Northwestern University graduate delighted in doing his part for residents of the western African nation, one of the 10 poorest nations in the world, according to the U.S. State Department.

That's why learning how their son died came as such a shock. According to preliminary investigative and autopsy reports, Merrill took his own life July 6 in his modest mud-walled home in the village of Kampolosso. Toxicology reports are pending.

His parents, Karen and Andy Merrill, have puzzled over question after question. Their answers indicate a happy young man. Zack Merrill wanted to see the vegetable garden he'd plotted and fenced for the village women -- to ward off malnutrition from a diet of mostly millet -- flourish. He was eager to stay in Mali longer, having recently extended his two years in the Peace Corps by another year. In late June, he told his parents he had reserved a four-wheel-drive vehicle and camels for his father's first trip to Mali scheduled for July.

"The thing we want people to understand is that Zack was truly happy there," Karen Merrill said.

The Merrills will hold a memorial service Saturday at Christ Church Episcopal Parish in Lake Oswego for their oldest son. They hope people will remember not how he died, but how he lived.

They see him smile In their Dunthorpe living room one evening last week, the Merrills watched a videotape of him working barefoot in his village. They see his friends.

"His friends, he was so lucky," Andy Merrill said.

They see the two dogs he adopted. They see him smile.

"I want to go back to the smile of him, just for a second," Karen Merrill said, before rewinding the videotape, a mother captivated by her boy's grin.

Andy Merrill also has videotape of his midmonth trip to Mali. Though he had just learned of his son's death, he made the journey anyway to learn about his son's life.

The tape shows Andy Merrill and a few of Zack's friends traveling to his African memorial service, the town where he wrote e-mails, and his village -- a congregation of block-shaped, adobelike homes where Zack was the only Peace Corps volunteer. Chickens run between houses. The occasional goat or sheep bleats in the background.

Mourning villagers squat all day in front of Zack's home. They approach Andy Merrill, one by one, uttering words in their village tongue.

Andy Merrill meets Zack's host parents. They stand in a circle and cry.

He visits Zack's home. Then the room Zack died in. It is a tough moment.

But he also sees where his son slept and cooked, and how neatly he'd nailed everything from pots to utensils to Nalgene water bottles to the walls. He checks out the lush green pictures from back home -- the McKenzie River and Waldo Lake -- stuck to one wall. And the bicycle Zack had crafted from scavenged parts.

Andy Merrill also visits the wells that Zack worked on. He touches the bricks. Mixing the concrete for them, Zack had told his parents, made his body feel like Jell-O.

Notes left on board When colleagues or friends would ask what his son was up to, Andy proudly filled them in.

"It was a better answer than anything I could have imagined," Andy Merrill said.

At home in the laundry room, Andy Merrill shows off a dry-erase board that after nearly two years, no one has erased. It has his notes from the first telephone conversation with Zack in Mali, about a month after he'd arrived.

"110 degrees," reads the board, describing the heat.

"45 minutes by bike, nearest PCV," short for Peace Corps volunteer.

"Matt, Buffalo" a Peace Corps volunteer from New York who became one of his closest friends.

The Merrills don't plan to wipe the board clean or erase other reminders.

A piercing "beep-beep, beep-beep" cuts through the air, late, after a night of talking about their son. The Merrills are silent. Zack's wristwatch is on the kitchen counter, and the morning alarm is going off.

"Mali is seven hours ahead," Karen said.

"It's 5:55 a.m. there," Andy said. Aimee Green:503-294-5969; aimeegreen@news.oregonian.com

July 23, 2003 - Memorial service scheduled for Peace Corps volunteer Zachary Merrill

Read and comment on this story from Oregon Live ton July 23, 2003 that a Memorial service has been scheduled in Lake Oswego, Oregon for Peace Corps volunteer Zachary Merrill who died in Mali on July 7 at:

Memorial service scheduled for Peace Corps volunteer*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

Memorial service scheduled for Peace Corps volunteer

LAKE OSWEGO -- A memorial service for Zachary Merrill, a 23-year-old Peace Corps volunteer and Lake Oswego High School graduate, will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, in Christ Church Episcopal Parish, 1060 Chandler Road, Lake Oswego.

Merrill had spent nearly two years working in the Peace Corps in a village of about 800 in Mali, the western African nation. A preliminary autopsy report released Tuesday found that he took his own life near his work site July 7.

Merrill, who grew up in Dunthorpe, attended Riverdale Grade School. He graduated from Lake Oswego High School in 1997 and Northwestern University with a degree in journalism in 2001.

In the Peace Corps, Merrill had spent almost two years on projects such as building a community garden to fight malnutrition and digging wells. He recently had applied for a one-year extension to assist in "information technology."

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