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Ex-volunteers, friends to mark CSU role in birth of Peace Corps

Published August 23, 2008 at 12:05 a.m.

Maurice Albertson remembers the phone ringing at 2 one morning in 1961.

It was Sargent Shriver, the Peace Corps' first director, calling to ask the Colorado State University civil engineering professor about a CSU study on creating a youth volunteer group in the United States.

"He apologized for the late hour but explained he'd been working on it all night and he'd finally got to me on his list. He wanted me to come to Washington as soon as possible," said Albertson, whose research went into the model Shriver adopted for the Peace Corps.

This weekend, the Peace Corps & Friends Celebration in downtown Fort Collins will honor Albertson and former CSU researchers Andrew Rice and Pauline Birky-Kreutzer for their roles in helping to create the Peace Corps.

On Thursday evening, just one day before she was to be honored, Birky-Kreutzer died at her home in Arizona.

The three-day gathering is expected to draw former Peace Corps volunteers from around the country, mark Albertson's 90th birthday today and bring attention to CSU's legacy as a Peace Corps recruiter.

Nancy Murray, who worked as a teacher in Thailand for the Peace Corps from 1987 to 1989, is an organizer for the event and one of many former volunteers who now live in Fort Collins. Murray and others at CSU believe the number to be as high as 400 to 600 people in Larimer and Weld counties alone.

"Fort Collins is definitely a magnet for returned Peace Corps volunteers," she said, mainly because of CSU's historic ties to the program and reputation in the areas of research, agriculture and fair trade.

Some, like Murray and her husband, who also taught for the Peace Corps in Thailand, attended colleges outside Colorado and are transplants.

Others, such as John Roberts, committee chairman for the Peace Corps Museum project in Fort Collins, are among the state's many volunteers who've come home.

According to Peace Corps statistics, approximately 6,300 recruits have come out of Colorado schools since its inception in 1961. The University of Colorado ranks third in the nation in the number of volunteers from large universities, while CSU ranks 12th.

Roberts, who grew up in Fort Collins and attended CU before volunteering in Somalia from 1964 to 1966, said Coloradans "sense of adventure and generosity" match the program well.

He is leading efforts to build a 50,000-square-foot Peace Corps museum in Old Town Fort Collins by 2011, in conjunction with the Peace Corps 50th anniversary. The project is estimated to cost $10 million.

The Peace Corps has remained true to its original vision, said Albertson, who began his career at CSU teaching water resources management and eventually oversaw all research projects at the university.

He, Birky-Kreutzer and Rice compiled their information from CSU staff who traveled abroad, particularly in Third World countries, as well as their own experiences.

Once the Peace Corps started, Birky-Kreutzer led one of the first groups into Pakistan and later authored the book Peace Corps Pioneer.

For information on the Peace Corps & Friends Celebration weekend, visit beetstreet.org or call 970-419-8240.

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