0:00

WILSON: Oral history interview with Dan Sprague November 6, 2006 interviewer Jack Wilson. Dan if you would please start by giving me your full name and where and when you were born.

SPRAGUE: Well I'm Daniel Mansfield Sprague. I was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut but raised in New Canaan, Connecticut. I was born March 3, 1940, or March 20, 1940.

WILSON: Okay.

SPRAGUE: So I'm from a small town.

WILSON: Okay tell me just something briefly about your growing up.

SPRAGUE: Well it was a small community that I grew up in, which was a wonderful place to grow up. My mother was a, ran a nursery school, and my dad was a small town lawyer who got involved in politics. And I 1:00guess that shaped a lot my own interests ultimately in public service. But he ended up serving I think three terms in the Connecticut House and was Speaker the last term. He, there were three other people that couldn't decide who should be the Speaker, and they ended up on something like the 35th vote throwing it to my father, who was a fairly young member of the house. In any event he also went on to be the Deputy Attorney General of the state, and ultimately when I was in high school served as General Counsel to the Defense Department and was Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs. Which 2:00the reason I mention that more than anything else is that they did a report, this was in the late Eisenhower administration. They were suggesting something like the Peace Corps. They didn't call it that, but they thought that a program that could engage Americans in going abroad, especially in more disadvantaged parts of the world and trying to help them move their societies forward would be in our international security interest ultimately. So even though my family had a very distinguished military background, when I eventually got to the Peace Corps my dad was very favorable and supportive of that idea as what was known as the Sprague Report in those years had recommended something along those lines.

3:00

WILSON: Okay so that would have been in the '50s, late '50s, right?

SPRAGUE: Yes, yeah late '50s.

WILSON: And so you graduated from high school in Connecticut in?

SPRAGUE: Yeah I went, I went away to a school called the Gunnery School and graduated in '59. I was not a well-disciplined student at that time in my life. I ended up going to Washington and Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania with about five other fellows from the Gunnery School. It was a second tier choice for all of us, and my junior year abroad I did a kind of self-negotiated junior year abroad. It sounds like a high faluting thing, but actually I was pretty ready to 4:00drop out of college at that point. I was not getting a lot out of the experience. I was having a lot of fun but I wasn't-- And I had moved to, I had a summer experience in Denver, Colorado and I really wanted to go out west was what I wanted to do after my sophomore summer. And my father then had left the government and was working with an international corporation and we, he, my parents moved to Switzerland. And they were very afraid that I was going to just end my college career. So I mention this because the long and short of it was I got a kind of self-negotiated junior year abroad at the University of Exeter in England, and it completely opened my eyes to an international arena 5:00that I didn't appreciate or understand very much before. I lived in a dorm with Nigerians and Yugoslavs and a very rich international community, and it really got me interested in the world and so I came back and finished my senior year at Washington and Jefferson and became keenly interested in the Peace Corps. I was a fan of John Kennedy, President Kennedy and I heard his call. And my exposure to the international arena in England really cemented my interest in doing something in the international arena, and the Peace Corps is kind of what I chose to pursue.

WILSON: And so the Peace Corps was something that was being talked about in college at that time, so that's where you learned about it?

6:00

SPRAGUE: Yeah I really learned about it you know as watching the early Kennedy years. I graduated in June of '63. I think Sargent Shriver was appointed when, 1960 or '61?

WILSON: '61.

SPRAGUE: And so the Peace Corps was a very new thing. I thought it was a very exciting and challenging call to service by the President. And as I said, my exposure to the international community through my junior year abroad really, really made it something that I wanted to do.

WILSON: Do you remember anything about the process of joining?

SPRAGUE: Yeah I do a little bit actually. I had a bit of a hitch in terms of what happened to me. You know you had to submit an application and an essay and talk about your interests and so forth and what areas of the world you were going to. I think there was 7:00a-- I'm trying to remember if there was a some screening or interview process and I'm not sure that there was Jack at that time. You may recall whether others have mentioned it or not. And I got a letter in the late spring of '63 saying that my application had been accepted for training, that I got my third choice of places to go, which was South America. And I was supposed to go to Colombia, South America. And as the training would begin in September, late September early October, and so that was a little longer than I wanted since I was going to graduate in early June and you know it would give me a summer. 8:00But so anyway I worked that summer and I got, I was making my plans for training. I was visiting some friends and getting ready to say goodbye to people you know, and I got a telegram in the middle of the night saying that they had reviewed my medical history and I had a reoccurring shoulder that would separate. It was an old high school football injury and it didn't happen very often, but when it did it was pretty painful. And they thought I was a medical risk, especially because I was going into a group that was really full of athletes, P.E. people that knew how to do physical education and health. We had nurses and we were the second group of that kind going to Colombia, 9:00and we were going to work largely with coaches and with teachers to teach them about the importance of physical education, nutrition, teamwork. It was to teach other values but that was the vehicle. And so they figured it was going to be pretty rigorous; it wasn't going to be football but-- So and it came at the last, I mean it was like two or three weeks before I was supposed to go. And that was all I really wanted to do so I, through my father's contacts he setup an appointment for me at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. to have that shoulder further x-rayed and examined. And I actually led a completely very physical life and didn't have a problem with it. And 10:00I remember sitting out in Lafayette Park in front of the White House near the Peace Corps office. And I had met with this kind of stern physician and he said, "I don't know. This could be a problem." So he looked at the x-rays and so forth and he said, "Can you, are you actually using that arm a lot?" And so I quickly snapped off. I was in pretty good shape then. I quickly snapped off a few pushups and then I did a handstand against his wall and did some standing against the wall, and he said, "Alright you go outside." And I spent about an hour and a half in that park just wondering what was going to happen and what would I do if that avenue wasn't available to me, and I was really very eager to go to the Peace Corps. So anyway he called me back and he, and I had told them that if that was an issue I would sign away 11:00any liability for the Peace Corps if anything happened to that shoulder while I was there. And he said, "You know it doesn't look like it's a chronic serious thing that could come, but it could conceivably." So they accepted my signing away the liability.

WILSON: Oh really?

SPRAGUE: Yeah.

WILSON: Interesting.

SPRAGUE: And he said, "You know the most important thing we're impressed with his how much you want to do this and that will overcome a lot of other things. And so you're back in the training program." So I went home on a train and was very pleased to get ready to head off to Tucson, Arizona where the Peace Corps training was going to be.

WILSON: Well tell me something about that training.

SPRAGUE: It was a real rigorous training. I mean we were busy from you know very early on to, and nobody was guaranteed a right to go. And 12:00you know it was a lot of learning about the culture, of course a lot of language training.

WILSON: You had had no Spanish prior to--?

SPRAGUE: I had studied Spanish. Yeah I had studied it but I couldn't really speak too much. I mean I knew vocabulary and I knew how to conjugate verbs and that kind of thing in terms of paper, but you know my oral speaking capacity was not very good. But I'm sure that training helped you know somewhat. And you know we were doing a lot of physical exercise too and we were learning how to teach sports and nutrition to the folks that we were going to be working with who were largely other teachers. And there was a lot of peer review going on. 13:00They were asking us about our colleagues and their mental stability and their ability to as athletes and speakers or the language and people that could be independent. And it was just a lot of pretty intense both self and group analysis was going on. And they took us down to across the Mexican border on two different weekends. And they would drop us off in small groups in these towns, you know no more than four or five people at a time with very limited resources and say, 14:00"You know you've got to make your way here. We'll pick you up Sunday night." This would be like on a Thursday. And so we would have to go into these towns and somehow connect with a church or a family or somebody and tell them why we were there and that we were learning the language and we needed to learn more about their culture and--

WILSON: Find a place to stay.

SPRAGUE: Find a place to stay and eat and everything. Those were very interesting and I think extremely valuable and quite challenging opportunities. But the second one was a little more fun than the first one because we knew the drill, but so I remember it being a fun time but very intense and was a lot of running and swimming and different skills sets that we had to develop. And I remember rigorous classes, 15:00long days and nights, not much downtime at all, very interesting.

WILSON: And the peer review stuff was a part of the selection process at that time?

SPRAGUE: I think it really was. I think it was very much a part of that. And I think they were trying to put a lot of pressure on us to see who could withstand it and how people would take it. And quite a number of people got selected out, were not invited to go on to that program.

WILSON: How big was the group?

SPRAGUE: I'm thinking the starting group was maybe about 38 or 9 and maybe 28 or so went, so it was a pretty small group. And the most shocking thing of all of course was that the President John Kennedy was 16:00shot during our Peace Corps training and killed. And we were just in absolute shock and stunned and but I think in the end we said, "Okay we're his people and we're going to fulfill you know what he wanted us to do," so we kind of bonded together and renewed our commitment to moving forward.

WILSON: So you then following the selection went straight in country to Colombia?

SPRAGUE: We went straight to Bogota, Colombia. There was a group that had already been there for a year that was doing the kinds of things we were doing, and we had a lot of in-- We had about a week I think or 17:00possibly two of training and lectures and involvement with that other group and then the assignments of where we were going to go. And I remember I really enjoyed that group; they were real characters and they were real early Peace Corps. You know and Colombia actually had a big program for that time. There were like 600 volunteers in Columbia in 1963, which was a major league program.

WILSON: Well and a lot of those were community development people as I recall.

SPRAGUE: Yeah most of them were, yes they were.

WILSON: So tell me something a little more about your program. Were you coaches or were you teaching?

SPRAGUE: Actually a couple of our I'd say a handful of our people were actually coaching some national teams in weightlifting and basketball 18:00was a major thing. Obviously they were better at their football- -soccer--than we were, and we did some swimming with them too. But mainly we would go to communities and we would start working with usually elementary and high school teachers talking about how to use the kids so called free time in the discipline drills that would be fun for them and how to talk to them about nutrition and teamwork and kind of those values. And I was down in the southernmost city of Pasto. I remember all the group one guys laughed when I had gotten that assignment because two people had been tried down there in that earlier 19:00group and nobody wanted to stay and nobody had made it very well. And I began to figure out right away why because I was supposed to have been met at this airport that was way out in this mountainous region of Colombia near Ecuador and nobody came to meet me. So the so-called counterpart person I soon discovered was a severe alcoholic who didn't keep much of any of his responsibilities, but was a well-liked person in town. But so I deviated a little from the question which was--

WILSON: Well that's alright. What was, and let me go back a half step. What was it like to arrive in Columbia? What was your earliest memory 20:00of that and then your actual assignment? Maybe those are the same; maybe they're different.

SPRAGUE: No it was you know it I guess the one thing that everybody was at first shocked at was the number of beggars and the homeless seeming people that were in the capitol city of Bogota. It looked like a time warp. There were no new cars; they were old. It was clear you were in a different kind of a civilization, a different era. And it was dirty and so you knew but yet this was the capital, so things would actually get worse in the sense of the kinds of the resources and the 21:00infrastructure, the physical infrastructure, of society and that kind of thing. And it was a little intimidating to realize that you know within a week's time or so you were going to be pretty much on your own somewhere. I mean our people were not teamed up. They were, some of them had an overlap with somebody from the previous group you know so there would be some continuity in programs. And we had major programs at universities in two places--in Medellin for the north and in Cali, the largest city in the south. And that was a university based program where we were really coaching both students and teachers and doing a 22:00lot of clinics for the high school coaches in that area.

WILSON: So go ahead.

SPRAGUE: But anyway I was sent off to the southernmost city where we'd had some experience but not very successful, and there was nobody else in any group there. I ended up making some contacts about three or four weeks after I was there with an architect who was supporting some community and economic development volunteers who were out in a--

WILSON: This is a Colombian architect?

SPRAGUE: No it's a US architect. It was a Peace Corps person who had architecture skills.

WILSON: Oh I see.

SPRAGUE: He was in the city but he was going out of the city periodically to assist other volunteers in community development if they were 23:00building schools or churches. Or they weren't building churches but basketball courts, other kinds of things. He was kind of their support system, traveling around, helping them. So through him I became acquainted with other community development Peace Corps volunteers in the Narino region there, but we didn't see them all that often but and I actually started going out and doing some sports days with them and trying to support their work in addition to mine in the city.

WILSON: What was your living situation like?

SPRAGUE: For a while I lived, for the first part I lived in a place where the former Peace Corps people had been. It was a little pension 24:00you know, a little very modest hotel. I just had a little bedroom there but I did have some, you know they did have some meals like they didn't do any lunches or anything like that. And I would go out and there were, there was an office of the sporting leagues and so forth that was there so there was a place to kind of go and meet coaches and people that were involved in athletic programs as a way to start getting into the schools and working more directly with people. The facilities they had were extremely modest and you know they didn't have very good basketballs; they didn't have very good equipment of any sort. And so you had to be pretty inventive and not more thinking more 25:00about drills and teaching discipline and teaching teamwork strategies and skills and that kind of thing. It was a difficult job in that region because there really wasn't a lot of developed you know programs of that kind. And as I said the key liaison was a person who was not very much on the ball or on the job, but I met a lot of wonderful people. And I did that for a year. At the end of that year when the first group left they asked me to come to Cali out of Pasto where I was in Narino and go to that university and head up that program and be 26:00the project manager or coordinator of all the, all of our volunteers in the southern half of the country. And they did another person from our group for the northern half. And that was to go out and evaluate their work, to help them, to visit them, to see if there were supplies that they needed, to kind of be their support person in addition to running the program at the university.

WILSON: Is this what they called the volunteer leader in that time period?

SPRAGUE: Yes it was. That's what they called the volunteer leader. So I got to see a lot more of Columbia and I got to see a lot of different approaches to what our group was trying to do.

WILSON: And how did that change your living and working situation?

27:00

SPRAGUE: You know my living situation actually improved quite a great deal. The guys that were there in that first group had a little ground floor apartment with a little balcony and so forth, and so I was living with two other volunteers that were with our group there. And it was during that process that I also met another American woman when I was traveling around who was working with Quaker Oats in a nutrition program to promote better health and nutrition among babies and their mothers. And they had a product called Incaperina, and she was going around to these Peace Corps, I mean they were Peace Corps gatherings that whatever groups were meeting she would go and explain what this 28:00product was and try to engage Peace Corps in helping her with these mother, pregnant mothers and people with young children. The thing is that product is a powder. It's a food supplement, but when you first take it into your diet and it can be mixed with milk or water or you know you can make kind of a you know a fruit punch out of it as well, mix it in with fruit drinks that were local to that area. But when you first take it in for the first little while it, you know you have to adjust to it. And so you'd have little kids would have diarrhea or they'd throw up and so you had to stay with it. It really needed to be handheld. But anyway I would later marry that girl, so that's kind of 29:00the end of that story.

WILSON: But she was not a Peace Corps volunteer?

SPRAGUE: Nope, she was stationed in Cali where I was living but was traveling a lot around the country and to health clinics in all the counties and was trying to promote her product and Quaker Oats.

WILSON: What did you do for recreation as a volunteer either in Cali or in the smaller community where you were?

SPRAGUE: Well of course you're always interested in you know visiting the communities and seeing more of what was going on and trying to meet the people in different walks of life. Cali was you know a big city and it had more of a big city environment than Pasto, which had a lot of people. But really I mean it did not have regular electricity. It 30:00was you know dark at night and it was very underdeveloped relative to Cali. And but I got a lot because I was traveling. I started flying a lot to these different communities and staying with other volunteers, so I really had a great exposure to the other parts of the country and the different countries there. Of course I had one long vacation at the end of, close to the end of my first year before I was going to take this new assignment. And I went to Ecuador and I knew the American consulate in Lima and went to Brazil as well, so I kind of got a little exposed to that but--

31:00

WILSON: So you had a fair amount of interaction with other Peace Corps volunteers and other Americans, but you continued contact with Colombians?

SPRAGUE: Oh yeah I mean Colombians were very socially minded. And if they were having fiestas or birthdays or you know they were very engaged with us and very hospitable to us. Even though Jack at the time the university was a hotbed of anti-Americanism and there were a number of demonstrations and so forth and you had to be careful being near those situations. And it was not, you could get spit at, people 32:00would throw things at you just you know. And so if you were in those situations, you better have some Colombians with you who knew you who would protect you, but it got violent sometimes.

WILSON: You mentioned marrying this woman who was there with another institution. Were you married in country or was this later?

SPRAGUE: No we got engaged at the end of that first year and we got married very soon after we got back, and I'm not sure that was the smartest move in the world. But anyway we did and she turned out was from Berkeley, California; of course I was from the northeast and so that was an interesting change. But that's what got me into actually 33:00living in California for a number of years after that.

WILSON: And what was it like if you can recall just coming back to the US having spent the two years in Columbia? Did you come straight back?

SPRAGUE: Well I came straight back because we had plans. I got out in late September; we had a November wedding planned in California. I needed to reconnect with my parents and my sister and friends, and they wanted to do something there for us. And you know it was pretty you know her parents hadn't met me; my parents hadn't met her. There was a lot of curiosity about what each of us was bringing home. And so I had to get back and kind of get ready. I had applied, let's see, yeah I had applied to the American Institute for what was then called the 34:00American Institute for Foreign Trade. I learned about it when we were in Peace Corps training and it's the, also known as the Thunderbird School and it's located in Phoenix, actually in Glendale, Arizona. And it's now quite a thriving institution; it was way the heck out on a kind of abandoned World War II air force base in Glendale, Arizona. But they would teach you about business and very good language training to go overseas with American corporations was the idea to become an international business person. And they had a year and a two 35:00year program there. And I applied for that and I was accepted, so I was going in January.

WILSON: So let me ask you a quick question. What was your major in college? Was that business?

SPRAGUE: No I was not, I was more history and political science.

WILSON: Okay, sorry I didn't mean to get you--

SPRAGUE: No that's fine. So anyway I remember coming back and boy I had a lot of, I had had a lot of different thoughts. Let me just say one poignant moment. I remember when I was taking the taxicab out to go to the airport at Cali and fly out of the country I was by myself. There had been a lot of ----------(??) at these going away parties and I reflected in the taxicab about my thoughts flying into Bogota 36:00at the beginning of the experience and how full I was of optimism that I could really make a difference you know for that country and how exhilarating that was going to be. And I had this flash, so I had that flashback and then I'm going off to the airport and I realized that in many ways it was all about me and how little I had probably done to influence anything in Colombia and how the Colombians had taught me so much you know. It was just one of those poignant things and I remember just breaking down and sobbing because I wasn't convinced that I had thanked them enough for all that they had done for me. I'm sure 37:00I did but I mean I had a profound insight that really they had given just so much more to me and had opened my world view and my thoughts about developing nations and our nation, the big wealthy country to the north. And it was just a very profound kind of poignant moment when I realized you know what a wonderful gift it was for me and how important it was that our country pay attention to these other countries and engage with them in their own evolutions not-- And I was very put off by the so-called ugly American traits that I saw in a Colombian, that 38:00I saw in Colombia--the oil companies and others that seemed to me to be using those countries more than helping them. But you know you're young, you're impressionable, you're not-- I had tremendous feelings against the Catholic Church for a while for its huge influence, which I thought was in lots of ways corrupt and exploited. And then I came around to the view but it offered them hope and it offered many other things to them. So it was a rollercoaster experience in lots of ways, and I'm sure my memory got very selective, but I remember it as a very important time in my life in terms of how I've led my life.

WILSON: And what kind of an impact did that experience have on your 39:00career path since?

SPRAGUE: Well it's interesting because I went off, you know I got married, I came back. I will say, Jack, you know I remember going home and I hadn't had my teeth cleaned or serviced in two years and I had internal parasites at the time, but I was as thin as I'd ever been, which was a good thing for me. Anyway in my town New Canaan, while I'm in getting my teeth cleaned, there was a horrendous kind of early because it was late October, it was an early cold blast and it was kind of a combination of a early snowstorm/thunderstorm and it knocked the power out. And everybody was completely panicked. And I 40:00had lived for the last few years of my life where power was out a lot. And I thought, "Oh man, we are really a spoiled society. We have all the basics pretty well taken care of." But I went out and went to this American Institute for Foreign Trade and it was very interesting. I decided to study French and I was very engaged with French, but I was learning how to, bills relating, all this stuff relating to trade and operating businesses, and I realized, you know, this isn't me. That's not what I want to do. And so after graduation I went back to the San Francisco Bay area where my wife Tish, Tish's parents were in Berkeley, and I ended up getting a job with a United Way type agency. It was 41:00called the Bay Area Social Planning Council and it was doing a lot of studies on the sociology of the bay area and lots of different things. It had a five county structure to it. I ultimately became a county director and it had volunteers that were very well like you would in a United Way campaign you know these counties. And we helped them direct their money and leverage their money into different programs. We looked a lot at juvenile justice and drug use and school programs and a variety of social programs and programs for the, those who had less 42:00resources that are in every community and did planning for the United Way in terms of how to think about spending their money. And then I started going to graduate school in public policy at Berkeley as well. And they helped me have the time to spend in the master's program at public policy.

WILSON: And then what got you from there to Lexington, Kentucky and the Council of State Governments?

SPRAGUE: At that time after working at the county and kind of regional level, I realized so much of the social policy programs were being developed in Washington. There was revenue sharing in those years, these categorical grants were being developed by Congress, and I 43:00thought you know the real-- If you're going to really get involved in shaping the public policy of the country you probably need to get into Washington at some point. And so I finished my master's degree while I was doing with the council there and became the county director for one of the counties in the Bay area. And at that time, let's see it was during the Nixon years and a man named, and there was a Bay area guy that-- There were the under secretary for it was then Elliot Richardson, a man who today, including today, held more cabinet level positions than any other American. He was under Secretary of State, which is considered a cabinet level position. He then came to HEW, it 44:00was then HEW not HHS, which it is now. He went to Defense; he became the Attorney General and was fired by Al Haig when he refused to back off prosecuting Spiro Agnew. And then he went and became under Gerald Ford's Presidency the ambassador to Saint James, the ambassador to England, and served out his last cabinet post as Secretary of Commerce. So a pretty amazing man, very moderate well-meaning Republican, and very bright man. Anyway I ended up getting hired by an assistant secretary for planning and evaluation for the social and rehabilitation 45:00services program. And I ended up becoming an assistant to the secretary.

WILSON: This was then HEW?

SPRAGUE: HEW.

WILSON: Okay.

SPRAGUE: In the early '70s. And Elliot Richardson had been the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and he had convinced the Governor to give him the portfolio for human services. And what we realized was if you're going to try to impact a person's life and move them from a condition of dependency to independence you really had to knit together a number of those programs to really advance them. And so he created something called the Allied Services Act was to enable states and localities to bring various parts of HEW together for a family 46:00to really try to move them along that spectrum. We never got the act passed, but I ran a very large research operation where we had lots of projects around the country trying different models, trying it out at a school, trying it in different ways.

WILSON: Let me pause long enough to flip this over. Side two interview with Dan Sprague October, November 6, 2006. Dan, you were talking about working in HEW with Elliot Richardson.

SPRAGUE: Secretary Elliot Richardson, he left, and I had then two young kids and we really decided that after three and a half years in Washington that we wanted to get back and raise our kids out of the Washington scene and get back to the Bay area. And I was asked to be 47:00the Deputy Regional Director for region nine, which is headquartered in San Francisco and had Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and some of the territories as part of that region nine. And I did go back there. The one thing that was really, really interesting was we had the fall of Saigon and the evacuation. I remember I was giving a talk on the Queen Mary in Long Beach and I got a call from somebody who said don't come home, go down to Camp Pendleton the marine base between L.A. and San Diego. There are refugees that are going to start flying in there; they're building a tent city. Well I went down there and I didn't get back home for three and a half months.

WILSON: Wow.

SPRAGUE: I lived in a trailer and it was right back like Peace Corps days, absolutely unbelievable. And we you know I had to coordinate the 48:00functions. We were trying to issue social security, we were in charge of working with San Diego County and L.A. County to get English as a second language up and running every day, we had communicable disease control issues. And so I worked with a marine commander and the state department people and the national refugee resettlement people, and we were trying to get those people placed and farmed out and church groups. It was just a fascinating time.

WILSON: And do you think that your Peace Corps experience helped you in--?

SPRAGUE: Oh absolutely. It was invaluable because you know the conditions actually under which we worked were pretty stark, but the people were living in tents. It was kind of a 24/7 type operation 49:00and you know again it was just, you think of these people with nothing away from their homeland, going to a new country, trying to be out placed. There were big policy issues about should they be sent off, scattered, or sent in clusters. Of course they ended up in clusters, even though we sent them in scatters, which makes a lot of sense when you stop and think of it. But anyway, but by the end of that time I was really didn't enjoy being a deputy director after that, after the refugee experience ended. I was really not being very creative; I was more of a bureaucrat. I took the guy who had been my mentor Bob Diller at the master's program in public administration and public policy at Berkeley had gone to USC, University of Southern California. And he 50:00actually convinced me to join their doctoral program. They had it for, they did it on weekends. It was for practitioners; you'd go for an intense four day weekend and then you'd read and write and do various things. And like every two months you'd get back together. And so I was doing that. I was looking for diversions, and I ended up joining, getting an inter-governmental personnel. I transferred to work with USC and I became their program advocate for the Bay area because they had programs in the San Francisco bay area in their doctoral and master's degree, and I taught I little in their master's program. And then along the way I had also been involved in ASPA, the American Society for Public Administration in the Bay area. And I got into the leadership track there, and I got a call one day from somebody who said 51:00there was a good friend of his who was having actually being asked to move out of his job. And the organization was going to support him and give him plenty of time, but he thought I had a lot of contacts through ASPA and could I meet with this guy and have lunch with him. Well this guy was the Council of State Governments' Western Office Director. He worked with the 14 western states, he had a governor's group, a legislative group, the attorneys general were all part of this thing, and I got totally fascinated.

WILSON: So this would have been when about 1980?

SPRAGUE: '89.

WILSON: '89 oh okay.

SPRAGUE: Yeah so it was 1989 it was in the fall. I gave that, you know I set up lunches for this guy and I tried to find out which way he would go, but along the way I had to tell him. I said, "Jared, I am becoming very interested in the job you're leaving." And he said, 52:00"You know you'd be great at this. You ought to take a look at it." Long story short I got selected to be his successor. It took a pretty significant pay cut but it was worth it to me to get out of the federal government and to get into a job where I could really be creative I thought working with state leaders, and a range of western issues. And I felt guilty for a long time because it took another six months before he got a job, but he got a job in Honolulu working on economic development for Honolulu, American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. I said, "Jerry, you're set for life, pal. I'm not feeling another ounce of guilt about having succeeded you here." So I did that for ten years. It was really challenging and interesting, and then the national job opened up here, the national executive director. And I had some ideas about how to pull the council 53:00together and its various regions. And I thought it was time to move on one way or another. I had done that job for ten years and so I applied for this job and was fortunate enough to get selected, and I came here in January of 1990 and that's where I've been.

WILSON: January of 1990?

SPRAGUE: '90.

WILSON: '90, okay so you've been here 16 years.

SPRAGUE: Yeah, longer than dirt now.

WILSON: Oh okay.

SPRAGUE: And in that time, you know, I've really gotten interested in Kentucky and what it is and how it operates and I've really seen a lot of the country as well, so it's been a really fascinating time for me.

WILSON: What about international experience since your Peace Corps days?

54:00

SPRAGUE: Yeah well that's an interesting thing because I felt it was very important when I got to the national level, although I had done a little bit of this in the west, to start educating especially legislators. Governors get the opportunity to lead trade missions, they go overseas, but legislators didn't have a lot of chance to do that. So we started an annual trip, we hired an international person, and we've been taking legislators to specific countries for specific reasons. Now we have an agenda when we go around their public policies and things that we could share with them. We also got very involved with USAID and we've been transferring environmental technologies to Asian countries for about ten years, major grants connecting American products and universities with Asian communities and trying to seed 55:00these technologies over there subsidized by government but in the hopes that they get started and sell their product over there. We have a project going with the Mexican border governors and legislators on border issues, environment. You know people back and forth. Now all the Canadian provinces are linked with our regions on trade and environment and fishing issues. It depends on which part of the region, but we held our annual meeting in Quebec, which no other state funded group you know of state officials has ever met outside the continental United States. It's very important Jack that we live in a global era 56:00but not everybody buys it, and it's very easy to say you know we need to focus on us and we need to be local. But I have seen these people's minds just open up when they get overseas and they begin talking and seeing about other countries and the importance of our relationships abroad and the opportunity quite frankly to promote American products and the like and work on the trade balance. So we've become much more international. There's a significant component that continues today internationally and it's something that I've been a strong advocate for and really helped bring to the council so yeah, very important.

WILSON: And how does that fit with John Kennedy's hopes for the Peace 57:00Corps do you think?

SPRAGUE: Well I think, I think John Kennedy understood the importance of educating and getting language and getting Americans into other cultures, and not only the idea of trying to give and help other people but I think really broadening our own world views, our own sense of the international community and how to manage this globe. And for the most part I think we have a lot more work to do in that regard. 58:00I still think there's a lot of people that are very ignorant and have a view that they're taking away all our jobs and so forth. That's just part of the global evolution of the economy. But we need to try to manage our planet, and I think right now I'm mindful of the new Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh that's come to UK to take over the Patterson School. I haven't met him yet but he spent a lot of time in the Mid East and in other parts of the world, and I was reading an article where he said you know he can't remember a time when foreign attitudes and perceptions about America were so low and were so hostile. So 59:00we have a lot more work to do. I'm not trying to make a political statement here but one of the things that worried me most about George Bush in contrast to his father, who had huge international experience as ambassador to China and ambassador to the UN was how little he had traveled abroad. And actually the one culture he really seems to understand is the Mexican culture, and I think his broader agenda on immigration reform, which hasn't been embraced by the Republican House and so forth, was the right one. But basically George Bush is very naive about the rest of the world and I can't imagine how he grew up in the family he did with seemingly so little of a world view. But in any event, our country needs to engage in other cultures, and I'm glad we 60:00still are and I'm glad the Peace Corps is still out there.

WILSON: And what would you say you know the impact of Peace Corps was on the way you look at the world today?

SPRAGUE: Huge, huge in a word, just huge. I grew up in a very well to do, you know, upper middle class kind of community of commuters that went into New York and there wasn't much diversity of any kind in my little town, although it was a wonderful place to grow up. So when I got, when I got over to England and then into the Peace Corps it just, it changed me as a person in pretty profound ways you know about 61:00the things I care about, the things I think about, about what I read and how I try to work and motivate this organization to be engaged internationally. And it was I have a huge, I owe a huge debt to the Peace Corps. It was the right thing for me to do. I'm sure there were, as I said earlier my memories are really selective because I know I did not always have good times. It was a struggle, but that struggle was important and I'm very indebted to the Peace Corps and I feel an instant bond with anybody who's had that experience.

WILSON: What do you think the overall impact of Peace Corps has been?

SPRAGUE: You know I'm not sure I'm a very good judge of it. I have to 62:00believe in the end the people to people element is the most important, that the folks that get involved in the Peace Corps and commit a significant you know two, in many times more years of their life, and the connections they make at a very human level across the globe are ones that are terrific for the US. And not only in terms of them knowing that we're human, caring, compassionate, and fun loving people, but that they're able to give us something that we come back with and that makes us more open to cultural and religious and other differences 63:00that we have in our own country. I think it makes us better able to, more open to engaging it and to exploring it and trying to understand it and trying to work collaboratively with other people. So I think it's a great influence.

WILSON: What should the role of Peace Corps be today in today's world?

SPRAGUE: Yeah that's a good question. I know it's probably a lot more technical and specific in terms of the skill sets that people take. I mean they're really trying to focus on the transfer. I mean that's my sense, on the transfer of really hard skills and things that can be sustainable. But nonetheless you have to live with people and learn how to work with them in their own way. I think it's important. You 64:00know we were really very young, inexperienced, unsophisticated people when we went, and I think that's fine. But we probably ought to take something that's a little more tangible to give to them that they can hopefully absorb and continue to use. So I don't know, but I've always felt that I thought the ending of the draft was a very, was a huge milestone in our own society in that it ended that era of at least everybody had the shot of being called into service for their country. 65:00And I'm very strongly, particularly as our longevity gets better, as our country gets wealthier, although there are elements that aren't, I am just a bulldog about everybody doing some national service. And I don't think it all has to be in the military but I think if you decide not to do that then there are a variety of ways including the kind of concept of VISTA and Americorps and Peace Corps where people at, and at some stage of their life and I think earlier is a little better than later need to get involved in helping other people.

WILSON: And does that have to be a national program or from your vantage 66:00point here at the council, are there things that states could do?

SPRAGUE: I think there are things that states can do, and there are things states are doing. There are major programs with delinquent kids getting them into kind of boot camp situations and then having them go out and do good work. There's I think the beauty of American society is it can happen in lots of different forms in ways. And I think there's church groups and missions and all kinds of things that are actually going on in society, and I think the more of those that we have the better off we are. So I don't think it always has to be a national program. I think states and even localities and churches and 67:00Rotary and, you know, I mean just a lot of different ways it can take place. But people to people, learning about each other, and trying to advance our mutual interest is as much needed today in this kind of new scary world of religious division and lack of and culture clashes. And I think maybe younger Americans are looking for ways. They're not as politically involved as I'd like to see them because the decisions that are being made now are going to be really, it's their future that's at stake and it's not a good future looking at it from a variety of 68:00standpoints. So I'd like them to be more politically active, but I'd like them to have more opportunities to serve others and not just go off to business school and see how much they can make for themselves.

WILSON: That's sort of the overview of questions I have, but do you have a Peace Corps story that you would like to tell me or are there questions that I haven't asked that you would like to answer?

SPRAGUE: Well you know the other thing of course you know as I've said I think my whole world view has been very much shaped and influenced by Peace Corps, my core values, what I have tried to dedicate my life to. But you meet some pretty extraordinary Americans. There was a Peace Corps guy in Colombia-- By the way one of my Peace Corps colleagues 69:00who I hadn't seen since we left Columbia drove by here the other day and we had been AWOL from each other for like 30 years and then we'd have an occasional email and it was just, that was really fun sitting here and planning when we'll get together in the future. When I was in Columbia there was a very famous Peace Corps volunteer, I should say he was well-known because his mother had died, had cancer. He was flown home for her last few weeks, came back to Colombia, invited his father and his two sisters down to visit him because they were all trying to heal together. And one of the sisters got thrown off a horse and broke her neck and died in Colombia, so his lost his mother 70:00and his sister in a period of about two months. And it was national; it was in the national media in Colombia. And I got to meet this guy just once very briefly at a social function in Medellin. When I became head of the council of the western region, California was not very involved. And this guy whose name is Sam Farr had happened to got elected to the Assembly. And I realized with a big institution like that it's not only Peace Corps makes sense here too but my connection with him just having both been in Columbia and my knowing his life circumstance I decided I needed to get somebody involved in us who 71:00could be an advocate for us in the California institution and hopefully grow their involvement with us. And so I reached out to Sam and we became very good friends. And he said, "You know we need an ocean resources group because you're having problems. You've got all these interior western states that are concerned about public land and water. Well we're all interested in fisheries and coastal zone management and oil, and if you get Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii we'll create a little ocean resources group." Well we did that and lo and behold Sam agreed to chair it and we got the greatest collection of people together from those Pacific states around those. But it was Peace Corps in so many ways, the connection that we had, I knew he'd be interested creating something new that the members could buy into 72:00and take ownership of and that group goes on today and, of course, Sam has been in the Congress for quite a long time since Leon Panetta left that seat, that great seat Carmel and Monterey, what a district. And he still fights for things international and it got California really very much involved with the Council of State Governments, and that continues today. So kind of an interesting little Peace Corps story with multiple tentacles that all tie together.

WILSON: Okay anything else?

SPRAGUE: No I appreciate your doing this project very much and I'm happy to have been a part of it.

[End of interview.]

Search This Transcript
SearchClear