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June 22, 2009

From Terre Haute to the Peace Corps — McDavids answer the call

TERRE HAUTE — Many know Terre Haute’s Robert “Doc” McDavid, long-time ISU professor, researcher, entrepreneur as well as avid golfer. But you may not know of his Peace Corps service and that four of his daughters served in the Peace Corps and went on to fulfill the vision established by President Kennedy by continuing their service in the federal government.

It seems all the rage now. Many elite universities have established overseas service as a graduation requirement. These universities are realizing what Robert McDavid and Kennedy knew a couple generations ago.

McDavid was a graduate from the University of Notre Dame, and shortly after Kennedy established his vision for the U.S. Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver was called on to lead establishment of this new institution. Kennedy — and his call to public service to build bridges with developing countries and improve the U.S. image overseas — needed top quality talent to fulfill his vision. Reputations are indispensable and networks matter, too. McDavid was recommended for a position by his department chair, Dr. John Scannel, to Notre Dame President Father John Cavanaugh, a friend of Shriver.

In early 1962, McDavid interviewed with Shriver after being screened and appropriately outfitted with an acceptable tie.

“Father Cavanaugh says you are the best physical educator Notre Dame ever produced,” McDavid recalled the opening line of the interview. To which Doc responded, “Father Cavanaugh is known to be expansive with the truth!” And the rest, is history. Little did McDavid know the lasting impact of that first meeting would have on him and his family.

The Peace Corps established a four-part training program as a prerequisite to the two-year volunteer service in a developing country. McDavid was hired as the technical advisor to develop the physical training component of the Peace Corps’ well known, three-month, pre-service training. Each volunteer received training in the culture of the host country, language, and technical skills like teaching English, village health, or gardening, for example.

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