October 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Older Volunteers: Louisville Courier Journal: Wini Yunker served in Ukraine. Her sense of adventure inspired Prill Boyle to write "Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women."

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : The Peace Corps in the Ukraine: October 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Older Volunteers: Louisville Courier Journal: Wini Yunker served in Ukraine. Her sense of adventure inspired Prill Boyle to write "Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women."

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Wini Yunker served in Ukraine. Her sense of adventure inspired Prill Boyle to write "Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women."

Wini Yunker served in Ukraine. Her sense of adventure inspired Prill Boyle to write Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women.

Wini Yunker served in Ukraine. Her sense of adventure inspired Prill Boyle to write "Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women."

A dream fulfilled
Peace Corps mission at 65 inspires 'Late-Blooming' book By Katya Cengel
kcengel@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

Caption: Yunker visited a castle in Yalta on the Black Sea in 2000. She said she was treated like a rock star when she was in Ukraine.
Courtesy of Wini Yunker


NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. Four years ago, the story of a small-town Kentucky woman fulfilling her dream caught the eye of a community college teacher in Connecticut.

The teacher, Prill Boyle, was reading The New York Times when she came across the tale of 65-year-old Wini Yunker of Nicholasville, who joined the Peace Corps 39 years after first applying.

Boyle remembers that day, Jan. 31, 2000, perfectly. The crisp sunlight hitting the snow outside her window, the spot she was sitting in at her kitchen table and the picture of Yunker that accompanied the article.

"She had her head thrown back and she looked so joyful, like she was going to take off," said Boyle. "She doesn't look scared.

"She looks exhilarated."

Then and there, Boyle, who had written only academic papers since a snowflake story in third grade, decided to write a book. Four years later, she is a full-time author, and Yunker, now 70, is looking for another adventure.

Together the pair are busy promoting Boyle's book, "Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women" (Emmis Books, $20). Yunker's story is the last chapter in the book. But it's the first in the adventure.


Yunker visited a castle in Yalta on the Black Sea in 2000. She said she was treated like a rock star when she was in Ukraine.
Courtesy of Wini Yunker

The story begins in Nicholasville, in an old, two-story white house with green trim and a porch swing. It is here that Yunker set out in February 2000 to begin a two-year-plus stint with the Peace Corps. She was 65.

The youngest of six girls, Yunker is always on the move. When you ask her for directions, she grabs her car keys. When she was young, she planned to satisfy her roaming spirit by becoming a Baptist missionary, but an early divorce put an end to that.

"Baptists married for life," said Yunker, who wears her white hair spiky and short. "I really didn't think it was OK to get divorced. But I did."

After the divorce she gave up dreams of seeing the world and settled in Washington, D.C., where she got a job as a clerk at a magazine. But in 1961, when former President John Kennedy created the Peace Corps, in which volunteers spend two years working in developing countries, Yunker's dream was rekindled.

That is, until a Peace Corps recruiter asked if she had a college degree. She didn't. And that was it. The Peace Corps requires higher education. She was 26. And crushed.

"I was devastated," said Yunker, throwing her long arms on her dining room table.

MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about the book "Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women," author Prill Boyle and the women behind the stories, go to www.prillboyle.com. Copies of the book can be purchased on the Web site; or check with your local bookstore.

To learn more about the Peace Corps, go to www.peacecorps.gov or call (800) 424-8580.
But like her dream of being a missionary, she got over it.

"I forgot about it," said Yunker. "It was a closed door."

And it remained so for 39 years.

Yunker, who didn't have time or money for college, went on with her life, moving back to Nicholasville in 1966, getting engaged, breaking up, getting married and divorced.

Throughout her life Yunker did what she had to do and what she wanted to do, but never what other people expected her to do. When she was 43, she adopted a child, Joe, now 27. When Joe Yunker was still young, she took an administrative position at Sargent & Greenleaf, a local lock company. It was there that she was given her third chance to reach her dream of going overseas by way of an education reimbursement program.

At 54, Yunker enrolled at Spalding University. By the time she reapplied to the Peace Corps 10 years later, she had a bachelor's degree in marketing and a master's degree in international commerce.

This time the Peace Corps didn't turn her away, but the application process still wasn't easy.

"They wanted to know every minute of my life, places I lived, medical history," Yunker said. "It took a long time to do that. My doctors were dead."

There also were complications about some caps on her teeth and a bunion on her foot. She had both, the bunion and teeth, removed. Then she packed, and in February 2000 boarded a plane for Ukraine. Once there, she spent more than two years teaching business at a secondary school in the city of Kirovograd.

During that time, she never went home.

"I didn't want to because conditions in Ukraine were really primitive," said Yunker. "They reminded me of the U.S. in the 1950s, and I thought if I went, it would make me dissatisfied with Ukraine when I returned."

Not that the former Soviet country disappointed her. On the contrary, Yunker enjoyed the way she was treated.

"Like you're a rock star," she said, her full lips breaking into a smile.

She also liked meeting then-President Bill Clinton. After giving a speech in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in June 2000, Clinton shook hands with the Peace Corps volunteers. Yunker said she had wanted to say, "God bless you, Mr. President," but lost her nerve. So she got back in line and shook the president's hand a second time, this time offering her blessing. Clinton shook her hand, said Yunker, then said, "Nice to meet you again."

She has a picture of them. Unfortunately, all that is visible are two white-haired heads. Yunker is no longer young, and she has the white hair and crow's feet to prove it. But even while living in a country where most retire at 55, Yunker was not treated as an old lady or "babushka," grandmother.

Instead she was referred to by the diminutive "Winitchka." Maybe it is the sports watch and dolphin necklace she wears. Former Peace Corps volunteer Rich Krauze, 30, thinks it's the way Yunker acts. Krauze remembers climbing a castle with Yunker and hearing a Ukrainian exclaim, "Our babushkas would never do that."

Yunker's Ukrainian friend Zoya Rodionova described Yunker as "open like a child to people and everything new."

Even now, at 70, Yunker wants to go to Africa.

"She just constantly wants to keep going," said her son, Joe.

For some, a trip to Africa might take years of planning. But for Yunker all it takes is a decision. Just like with Ukraine, where she went without knowing the language, Yunker doesn't stress the little things.

"She didn't worry about the details," said Boyle. "She just went."

It was this sense of adventure that caught Boyle's eye. As she read Yunker's story in the newspaper several years ago, she envisioned a book, her book, about women like Yunker. Then, in 2002, after interviewing dozens of women, she contacted Yunker.

"I was stunned," said Yunker. "I thought, 'What if I failed?'"

But she didn't. And neither did Boyle. When publisher after publisher rejected Boyle's book, she found encouragement in her subjects.

"The women that I interviewed one after another inspired me," said Boyle.

And one of them, Yunker, is still inspiring. Jean Kelley, another subject in Boyle's book, went from being on welfare to earning a doctorate at 49. Now, at 53, she said she wasn't sure what she wanted to do with her life, until she read the story that started it all Yunker's.

"I thought this (the Peace Corps) would be perfect," said Kelley. "All the elements I want are in this one position."

And the application is on her computer.





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Story Source: Louisville Courier Journal

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

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