JFK cousin to participate in Peace Corps celebration on the steps
Fifty years ago this week, Ann Arbor resident Marnee DeVine waited for her cousin on the steps of the Michigan Union and watched as he challenged students to work for global peace. Less than a month later, her cousin John F. Kennedy would be elected president of the United States and transform his ideal into the Peace Corps.
DeVine and her husband, John, remember the excitement on Oct. 14, 1960, as word spread that Kennedy planned to spend the night at the Union. By the time Kennedy arrived, at least 5,000 people were waiting for him.
Kennedy and his campaign staff had wondered if anybody would be waiting. It was nearly 2 a.m. They were “dumbfounded by the size of the crowd,” DeVine says. Seeing that all of those people had waited for a chance to see him “buoyed” the senator, DeVine says.
So she wasn’t surprised when Kennedy delivered impromptu remarks and called for students to dedicate their lives to international service.
“I was never surprised by anything he did,” says DeVine, who worked on Kennedy’s campaign. “He had a wonderful feel for people and how to draw them in.”
In the morning, DeVine returned to the Union to introduce children from her neighborhood to the future president before Kennedy and his entourage, which included the DeVines, embarked on a whistle-stop tour across the state.
It was on that day, she says, that a professor from the university called to ask if Kennedy was serious about forming an international peace service. A close aide answered: “If he said it, he’s serious,” John DeVine says. And just months after his inauguration, Kennedy formed the Peace Corps.
“The University of Michigan was very active in the formation of the Peace Corps,” John DeVine says.
U-M and the Peace Corps will celebrate those first moments on the steps and the great service they inspired with ceremonies on the steps of the Michigan Union at 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Thursday.
DeVine is among the speakers participating in the 11 a.m. ceremony on the steps of the Union. She will be joined by U-M President Mary Sue Coleman; Board of Regents Chair Julia Donovan Darlow; former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford; alumnus and former Peace Corps Director Jack Hood Vaughn; and current Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams.
Among the events and exhibits celebrating the anniversary are:
• The Hatcher Library exhibit, “U-M and the Peace Corps: It All Started Here.” The exhibit showcases the role U-M students and faculty played in the creation of the Peace Corps and highlights the development of student activism, the hard work of the Americans Committed to World Responsibility and stories from some of U-M’s more than 2,300 Peace Corps volunteers. It is on display through Nov. 30.
• A screening of the hour-long documentary “A Passing of the Torch” at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hatcher Library and at 1 a.m. Thursday on the steps of the Michigan Union. The film explores U-M students’ push for the creation of the Peace Corps after Kennedy’s late-night speech.
• Comments by activist, author and politician Tom Hayden on “The Importance of Community Organizing: From the Peace Corps to Barack Obama,” 8:30-10 p.m. Thursday in the Hatcher Library.
A full calendar of events is available at peacecorps.umich.edu/events.html.