ANDOVER — David Lewis was looking for adventure when he joined the Peace Corps in 1977.
"I absolutely found it," said Lewis, of Andover, who volunteered as a small business consultant in El Salvador.
"I learned another language, culture and met wonderful people. The experience gave me another view of the world."
Lewis, management professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell, was one of 20 former Peace Corps volunteers who met last night to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the organization.
Kay Frishman, who served in Uruguay from 1965 to 1967, hosted the pot luck supper at her Andover home.
"Thank you Peace Corps for changing our lives," Frishman said during a toast.
"I was an idealistic young woman and the Peace Corps fit into what I wanted to do," said Frishman, who is retiring as executive director of Family Services after 30 years.
The Peace Corps volunteer program was established by President John F. Kennedy's executive order in 1961, with a three-part mission of providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States understand American culture, and helping Americans understand other cultures.
Since 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and have served in 139 countries. Volunteers serve 24 months abroad after three months of training, typically working in social and economic development.
Former Peace Corps volunteers from Lawrence, Andover, North Andover, West Newbury and Amesbury attended and shared their stories of living in far away places like the Marshall Islands, Tonga, Ghana, Brazil, the Philippines and El Salvador.
Some, like Kathy and Jason Pryde of Andover, wore traditional attire from Malawi. David Hildt of Amesbury brought feijao tropeiro, a side dish from Brazil made with red beans, bacon, garlic, bay leaf and peppers. Others, like Bila Kolbe, brought lu, a spinach, coconut milk and seafood dish from Tonga, where he served.
Kolbe, a Spanish teacher at Andover High School, wore a necklace made out of shark cartilage from Tonga, a 176-island archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, and a Decapitado from El Salvador.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Kolbe joined the Peace Corps instead of going into a career in medical technology.
He taught English to 57 students in a school with only a thatched roof and cracked stone floors. He was on a deserted island with no electricity or running water and said he had several encounters with sharks and barracudas. During his time in the Peace Corps he visited Pitcairn Island, where "Mutiny on the Bounty" is said to have taken place.
Kolbe resigned and was sent to El Salvador, where he taught at the National School of Agriculture. He was in the central American country during the devastating earthquake in 1986.
Joan Canterbury had travel in mind when she joined the Peace Corps in 1963.
"I was sold when I got a telegram telling me I was going to train in Hawaii for 10 weeks," Canterbury said. "Even if I didn't make it, I would never get to go to Hawaii for 10 weeks again."
She taught English for three years in the Philippines.
"It was an eye opening experience of living in another culture," said Canterbury, who teaches English as a second language at the Seton Asian Center in Lawrence.
Jerusha Ryan of West Newbury taught English in the Marshall Islands, a Micronesian nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, from 1966 to 1968.
"I was looking for a different experience. It was pretty idyllic," Ryan said.
Serving across the globe inspired her to travel, which she has done to more than 40 countries and for the past 10 years to open her home to exchange students who come to Merrimack College to study.
"I would do it again because I developed relationships with people instead of just traveling," she said.
George Koehler of North Andover, who volunteered in Ghana from 1963 to 1965 was inspired by President John F. Kennedy.
"I was caught up in his words and it seemed like a great opportunity.
Hildt served in Brazil with the 4-H program and in health camps helping eradicate intestinal parasites.
"I knew the Peace Corps fostered understanding among people of different cultures and I really wanted to be part of that."
"Helping others made me realize that there's lots of need everywhere and because of that experience, I started helping people in my own country," said Hildt, executive director of Adelante Youth Center.
His son, Michael, also joined the Peace Corps and he met his future wife while training.
About the Peace Corps
The volunteer program was established by President John F. Kennedy's executive order in 1961, with a three-part mission of providing technical assistance, helping people outside the United States understand American culture, and helping Americans understand other cultures.
Since 1961, over 200,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps and have served in 139 countries. Volunteers serve 24 months abroad after three months of training, typically working in social and economic development.