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John Tease at 51 off to Armenia with Peace Corps
John Tease at 51 off to Armenia with Peace Corps
At 51, itís off to Armenia with Peace Corps
Gil Spencer , Times Columnist 06/09/2004
You ask businessman John Tease what, at the age of 51, heís thinking -- joining the Peace Corps and going to Armenia to live in a rural village for two years -- and heíll throw it back at you as if itís the most natural thing in the world to do.
"You probably had the same thought in your mind 35 years ago," heíll say.
And when you reply, "No, I didnít," heíll smile acceptingly and try to explain himself.
It turns out that, early on, Tease was your conventional American high school kid.
He graduated from Penncrest High School in 1971. But he wanted to do something a little different from his peers, who were mostly going off to white-bread colleges.
"The thought of going to Penn State left me uninspired," he explained.
So, even though he spoke barely a word of Spanish, he went to the University of the Americas, south of Mexico City, where he majored in anthropology and met his future wife.
She was from Denver. So, after spending four years in school, he went back to Colorado with her. They got married and he went into her familyís business.
Some 30 years and two daughters later, they got amicably divorced.
It was the divorce and a certain level of financial independence that left Tease free enough to pursue the daydream he had back in high school.
It was his Penncrest social studies teacher, Emerson Tjart, who got him thinking about other cultures, other countries and the people who live in them. Tjart had done his own hitch in the Peace Corps in the mid-í60s, serving in Iran before the ayatollahs took over.
"Why Armenia?" I asked Tease.
"Actually, I was looking for an African assignment," he said, explaining he was almost set to go there when he was injured while racing his quarter horse in Denver.
After he was cleared medically, he got a call from the Corps.
"They said Armenia," and that was that.
So, he began to read up on it.
"Itís a tiny country, the oldest Christian nation in the world," having declared it the state religion in the 4th century. The literacy rate is 99 percent, but under Soviet domination it was kept a relatively poor nation, he said.
Now that the Soviet Union no longer exists, Armenians are trying to make the painful transition to a market economy. The country is still recovering from the 1988 earthquake that destroyed almost a quarter of all the buildings in the north. Still, itís a country rich in culture with a strong intellectual tradition and a population with a gift for commerce.
Tease will start out in a 90-day training program, learning the language (East Armenian) and getting a feel for the doís and doníts of the culture. Then, depending on the needs of the community, heíll be assigned.
Since his own experience is in business, he hopes heíll be put to work helping the locals improve their economy: from finding investment sources to setting up computers systems to just teaching high school students whatís really involved in a free-market system.
Tease comes by his adventuresome streak honestly.
His father, Sam, who still lives in Upper Providence with his bride Gin, has traveled the world on his motorcycle. At 82, the retired Marine is planning a jaunt up through New England later this summer.
As for Johnís daughters, theyíre no slouches, either. Theyíre Western girls.
"They ride horses well and they shoot straight," he says proudly.
His youngest, Allison, fought forest fires with the U.S. Forestry Service right out of high school before going into nanotechnology, while the older one, Meredith, is the chief operating officer of a hedge fund.
High-spiritedness apparently runs in the family.
So his cars are sold, as is one of his horses. The other, his beloved Sugar, has been put out to pasture.
He leaves this week. He can bring with him 100 pounds of personal belongings, which will include a laptop, a short-wave radio and a sleeping bag rated for sub-zero temperatures. The climate is a lot like Denverís: dry but with cold winters.
"Itís enough to feed yourself" with a little left over for "some level of entertainment."
The housing? Adequate, safe and secure.
Heís been told that "a good sleeping bag, flexibility and a sense of humor will enable one to survive." Heís got the sleeping bag for sure. Heíll find out how much of the other two he has after he gets there.
"I only hope I can give back as much as Iím going to get out of this," he says. "I like to think I have much to offer, but it worries me."
He doesnít look worried. He looks happy.
"Iím so exited," he says, sounding like a kid. "Iím ready for this."
Gil Spencerís column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.
©The Daily Times 2004