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The Marlay Peace Corps Legacy

Last Update: 2/1/2014 6:07 PM

By John Hoban

It’s not every child who grows up being scolded in Tagalog (a local Philippines language), but then again Daniel Marlay did not grow up in an average American family. He was part of a Peace Corps legacy. Both of his parents, Sue and Ross Marlay, served together in the Philippines from July 1967 through June 1969. They joined as newlyweds shortly after finishing college. “When I heard President Kennedy announce his idea for the Peace Corps, I decided right then that I would participate. It sounded like a fantastic program to me. I never waivered in this decision,” Sue explained. For Ross, his motivations were a little different. “It was Sue’s idea. She had always wanted to do it, and I wanted to marry her, so...” Ross said. They were both married on June 17th, 1967 and began training just weeks later on July 1st, 1967.

Daniel Marlay and Dad

Ross and Sue’s pre-service training took place in the U.S. at San Jose State University. Then they were sent to the Philippines to work as teacher trainers. Ross trained elementary science teachers while Sue worked with high school math teachers. They were placed in a very small town in the province of Bataan. Sue declared, “The Filipino people were so very warm and generous. They welcomed us wherever we went in the country. It was not unusual for a total stranger on the public bus to invite us to dinner.” Ross echoed Sue’s sentiments declaring, “Filipinos are about the nicest people in the world: friendly, hospitable, polite, always good-humored.” Both had fond memories of the Philippines. “They were forever telling us how much they liked Americans because we had saved them from the Spaniards and the Japanese. When people saw us on the street or on a bus, they would call out ‘Hey, Joe.’ That was a holdover from World War II when Americans were GI Joe. Kids would also raise up two fingers in the form of a V and yell ‘Victory Joe,’” Sue recalled. Ross remembered the “delicious” tropical nights and the magical feeling of “…walk[ing] around a town where the only light at night was a full moon.” Although the intense heat of March, April, and May could be unbearable and they had some doubts about their service during the Vietnam War, Sue and Ross were glad they joined the Peace Corps. Ross even turned it into a lifelong connection by entering into a Southeast Asian Studies masters program upon returning and studied Philippine politics. He later received a PhD from Northern Illinois University in Political Science with a specialization in Southeast Asian Politics. Sue continued her involvement with foreign cultures as the Director of International Education at Arkansas State University, working with students coming to study in the U.S.

So, it is no surprise that Daniel Marlay had a unique upbringing with two RPCVs as parents. He remembered hearing his parents’ Peace Corps stories and Tagalog when he misbehaved. He even made a trip with his family to the Philippines when he was four. His father, Ross, recalled telling Daniel and his brother stories about "[M]y first bus ride in the Philippines, when the bus was so crowded that I had to stand on a tied-up pig. Or the time the bus wheel came off and the speeding bus slowly settled onto its right rear axle. Or the time we were in a jeep with the mayor, and his bodyguard’s pistol caught on the door handle, resulting in a bullet hole in his stomach and a wild ride to the provincial hospital." Having RPCVs as parents also exposed Daniel to a unique perspective about the world. Sue stated, “…[Ross and I] came home with a real appreciation for how much we have: plenty of food, clean air and water, excellent health care, good education and a safe environment to name a few. I believe that we passed that appreciation on to our two sons. I’d like to think that they grew up thinking they were fortunate, not entitled, to have these many things.” Sue also stated, "…[W]e came home ‘infected’ by the travel bug. I suspect that we passed that on to the boys."

Daniel recalled that his decision to join the Peace Corps wasn’t directly influenced by his parents, but conceded his upbringing did play a role in making him more aware of the Peace Corps and volunteer service. “My parents’ Peace Corps experience was always present. Maybe it was a lot more likely that I became a Peace Corps volunteer because my parents were as well. If they could do it, I could do it! [Laughs]” Daniel stated. During college, he became very involved with volunteering and became the director of the student volunteer program at his school. For Daniel, the Peace Corps was an opportunity to continue his passion for volunteering and also live in a foreign country and culture. Ross added, “We were delighted that Daniel joined the Peace Corps, but he didn’t need any encouragement from us. He had imbibed the volunteer ethic from Boy Scouts onward.” Daniel’s parents were excited when they found out he would be sent to Suriname as a Nonformal Education Volunteer 2001-2003. “My parents told me no matter where in the world I was assigned, they would come visit me,” Daniel recalled. He co-taught seventh through tenth grade English with local teachers at two middle schools and helped improve their curriculum. Daniel also became involved with a couple of secondary projects like helping the school’s chess club getting a SPA (Small Project Assistance) grant for training materials and new chess boards. He also worked with one of his counterparts to obtain an SPA grant for improving a dilapidated gym at one of the middle schools, and even extended his service a couple months to see the project to completion. Some of Daniel’s best memories from service happened on graduation days. He explained, "I worked with students from 7th to 10th grade, which was the highest level of education someone could obtain in our region. If kids wanted to go onto high school, they went to the capital. And in Suriname, they’re not afraid to flunk kids. They’re tough. So graduating from the tenth grade is a big deal…" Daniel continued, "They’d bring out a big chalkboard with the kids’ student ID numbers written, and the kids would all huddle around the chalkboard looking for their numbers, and it was this big exciting moment if they saw they graduated. It was an emotional day to see all these kids you’ve worked with and to see what they were going through… A lot of those kids were feeling very grateful at the moment, coming up and thanking their teachers and then coming up and thanking me in English. I’m clearly not responsible for these kids’ education, but these kids felt like I was part of it in some way and so that was definitely really nice to have those kids come up and say thanks."

Daniel’s service in Suriname changed the way both parents and son saw each other. "Your relationship with your parents changes when you get older… I joined Peace Corps at a very formative time. It made a different reference point for us to understand each other… I related a lot more to [their stories] when I was actually a Peace Corps volunteer than when I was 6 years old," said Daniel. When Ross and Sue came to visit him in Suriname, it also gave them all a chance to compare notes on their Peace Corps experiences. Sue said, "In many ways, it seemed to me that little had changed for PCVs in the 35 years since we were in the Peace Corps. Volunteers still hung out at the Peace Corps office in flip-flops, sharing books and eating pizza. They also seemed to enjoy their villages and gladly showed me around. So, in that sense, I did feel as though I was back in our small town in the Philippines." Ross recalled, "It was a time trip! It seemed like nothing had changed. The volunteers still hung out at funky restaurants and were happy in grungy hotels." Daniel remembered his mother asking his father if there was anything different about Daniel. His father replied, “He’s a little more hairy than I remember!" But the biggest differences in their experiences were with technology. “Ross and I only made one telephone call to our family during our two years in the Philippines. And, we had to go into Manila to the country’s fanciest hotel—the only place that had international calling—to place that call. But, Daniel had a phone in his house so we called him once a month. And, he could e-mail from the Peace Corps office when he was in the capitol. We relied on aerograms, which sometimes took three months, for communication with family and friends," Sue said. When asked about possibly continuing the Marlay Peace Corps legacy, Daniel replied, "Like having a third generation? I’d be interested to see if I had kids, if they would end up in Peace Corps, too. [Laughs]. But that’s not a concern at this point…"