December 18, 2003 - Oregon Live: Guatemala RPCV Janet Klepper dies in Oregon

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Guatemala: Peace Corps Guatemala: The Peace Corps in Guatemala: December 18, 2003 - Oregon Live: Guatemala RPCV Janet Klepper dies in Oregon

By Admin1 (admin) ( - on Thursday, December 18, 2003 - 9:59 am: Edit Post

Guatemala RPCV Janet Klepper dies in Oregon

Guatemala RPCV Janet Klepper dies in Oregon

Volunteer's compassion knew no borders

Peace Corps worker Janet Klepper helped the needy in Guatemala and never let rules stand in her way


In her mid-50s and divorced, Janet Klepper called both her grown sons and asked whether she should join the Peace Corps. But she had already made up her mind to sell everything, pack up and go.

She spent the next 25 years in the field, much of it on an 8,000-foot-high mountaintop in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. She also worked in the Dominican Republic and in Costa Rica. At times, she faced bomb blasts a block away. Patrols were constant.

But fear was just not her.

"They all know I'm there to help, and no one bothers me, not even the local guerrillas," she once said. "I love the people."

Usually, life was peaceful. Over time becoming fluent in Guatemalan Spanish, the onetime secretary with accounting and bookkeeping background helped Quiche Mayans develop small businesses. She worked with cooperatives, helping them with their books or applying for loans.

Janet was both one of the Peace Corps' oldest and one of its longest-serving volunteers. She was paid about $250 a month.

She had to drop out of the Peace Corps for back surgery, and she came to Portland, near a son. While mending, she volunteered with a Clackamas County volunteer program tutoring Mexican immigrants in English and doing a little translation work. She volunteered with the Salvation Army and did the books for Clackamas County Gleaners. But she came roaring back and announced, "I'm ready to go," and back down to Guatemala she went.

In Guatemala, Janet lived in a small bedroom in a pension and did a lot of walking on dirt roads. Sometimes, for 10 centavos, she'd take a bus to the villages in an old, beat-up American school bus missing a second gear.

She listened to the radio; the village shared one TV. Most villages had electricity by the 1980s, but there was no need for refrigeration, because most people ate black beans and corn tortillas every day.

Janet took women from the weaving co-ops for their first visit to the big city, Guatemala City. She taught some how to use a phone.

Most of the other Peace Corps volunteers were in their 20s, but she'd party the night away with them anyway.

"I don't know how to talk to old people," she said.

As an elder, she was a figure of respect. When she went to town meetings, because she was the oldest, they'd want her to sit on the council. Peace Corps officials went down to meet her.

While serving in the Peace Corps, if someone said no, she'd figure out a way. She pushed the Peace Corps rules and kept extending her stint as a field volunteer.

Janet often told her boss what she was going to do. "I know he's my boss," she said, "but I don't let him know that."

She got calculators and a weaving machine shipped down there and circumvented Guatemala's huge import duties to get a computer.

Whether they were the limitations the Peace Corps put on her or the laws of the country she worked in, rules were made for somebody else.

But in Guatemala, at age 81, she had a stroke that ended her career. Where before her life had been wide open, suddenly she faced four walls in Oregon City and then Canby.

"If I could do it," she announced, "I would fly back to Guatemala." "Dona Janet" died at age 89 on Dec. 7, 2003.

Amy Martinez Starke: 503-221-8534;

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Story Source: Oregon Live

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Guatemala; Older Volunteers; Obituaries



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