June 24, 2005: Headlines: COS - Sri Lanka: Tsunami Relief: Older Volunteers: South Bend Tribune: Peace Corps volunteers Tom and Mary Durm Mechtenberg are awaiting their next mission, a Crisis Corps assignment to tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka. Tom was 74 and Mary 63 when they joined the Peace Corps three years ago.

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Sri Lanka: Peace Corps Sri Lanka: The Peace Corps in Sri Lanka: June 24, 2005: Headlines: COS - Sri Lanka: Tsunami Relief: Older Volunteers: South Bend Tribune: Peace Corps volunteers Tom and Mary Durm Mechtenberg are awaiting their next mission, a Crisis Corps assignment to tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka. Tom was 74 and Mary 63 when they joined the Peace Corps three years ago.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-245-37.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.245.37) on Friday, June 24, 2005 - 11:31 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps volunteers Tom and Mary Durm Mechtenberg are awaiting their next mission, a Crisis Corps assignment to tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka. Tom was 74 and Mary 63 when they joined the Peace Corps three years ago.

Peace Corps volunteers Tom and Mary Durm Mechtenberg are awaiting their next mission, a Crisis Corps assignment to tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka. Tom was 74 and Mary 63 when they joined the Peace Corps three years ago.

Congratulations to the Peace Corps on sending Crisis Corps Volunteers to Sri Lanka.

Peace Corps volunteers Tom and Mary Durm Mechtenberg are awaiting their next mission, a Crisis Corps assignment to tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka. Tom was 74 and Mary 63 when they joined the Peace Corps three years ago.

Never too old for the Peace Corps
In their golden years, Niles couple head to Sri Lanka.

MUM'S THE WORD

By LOU MUMFORD
Tribune Columnist

Caption: Peace Corps volunteers Tom and Mary Durm Mechtenberg are awaiting their next mission, a Crisis Corps assignment to tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka. Tom was 74 and Mary 63 when they joined the Peace Corps three years ago. Tribune Photo/SHAYNA BRESLIN

NILES -- Tom and Mary Durm Mechtenberg don't let the grass grow under their feet.

Not the grass in the United States, anyway.

It's not so much boredom that sets in, said Tom, a retired social worker, but the couple's strong desire to make themselves useful.

And, if the two can be useful in a locale far off the beaten path, so much the better.

"We both started out our lives interested in doing something adventurous and helpful at the same time,'' Tom said.

That inclination prompted them to travel to Vietnam in 1968, only days after the Tet Offensive, to work as volunteers for Catholic Relief Services.

At the time, Tom was 40 and living in South Dakota. He said he had decided after 17 years that the priesthood wasn't for him.

Similarly, Mary, of Niles, had left a convent after 11 years. A registered nurse at Borgess Medical Center, Kalamazoo, she said she was intrigued by the opportunity offered by CRS.

"One other nurse and I said, 'Let's go for it,''' she recalled.

Mary was assigned to work in crowded refugee camps and Tom had the task of improving the quality of life for hundreds of children in a Saigon orphanage. Other than "a few rockets,'' Mary said, their stay in Vietnam was relatively uneventful yet fulfilling.

The two met in Vietnam and were married in 1972, shortly after they returned to the States. They settled in Port Huron, Mich., where Tom became a social worker in the Port Huron schools and Mary served on the St. Clair County Commission.

Twenty-four years and three children later, Tom retired, Mary left politics and the empty-nesters moved to Niles where they did what any couple approaching their golden years might do. They joined the Peace Corps.

"We said, 'What are we doing here?' We had no good reason not to do it,'' Tom said.

The Mechtenbergs asked for a country with a warm climate and a location close enough to the States for infrequent visits with their children. They wound up in Soufriere, a picturesque town in the Caribbean's St. Lucia.

The couple said tourists who cruise the Caribbean don't see St. Lucia's dark side, a blend of poverty and the spread of the virus that causes AIDS. Mary said her job was to develop a secondary-school program aimed at reducing the spread of HIV.

"They're (teenage students) smarter than you think ... but they're not willing to change their behavior to do anything about it,'' Mary said.

"You see kids living in crowded conditions. They're hanging around with nothing to do.''

There was nothing to do either in the school's library, which had no books until the Mechtenbergs put out a call answered by students at Niles Senior High School. The library now features hundreds of volumes.

"I can't tell you how grateful that librarian and the kids were,'' Mary said.

After returning from St. Lucia a year ago, the Mechtenbergs were staying in Florida when they read about the tsunami and its toll not only in lives but housing. In short order, the two made a call to the Crisis Corps, an arm of the Peace Corps that, as its name implies, places Peace Corps volunteers on short-term assignments in crisis areas.

So, next month, Tom, 77, and Mary, 66, will set off for a three-month obligation in Sri Lanka. The Mechtenbergs' job will be to survey Sri Lankans to determine if aid offered by the International Red Cross is going to the right people and if relief funding is going to the right places.

They're looking forward to the mission but not the heat and the wear and tear on their legs and feet. Apparently for safety and liability reasons, the Peace Corps doesn't allow volunteers to drive.

"You lose a lot of weight. You walk everywhere,'' Mary said.

With heads held high, no doubt.





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Story Source: South Bend Tribune

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sri Lanka; Tsunami Relief; Older Volunteers

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