Throughout his short life John always demonstrated insatiable curiosity, the gifts of personal discipline and scholarship, and a passionate commitment to opportunity for all people.
John served the Peace Cops during 1965. An interviewer’s notes state that John was “not a bland applicant! This is what the field is asking for.” Following Peace Corps training at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, John was posted in Kenya. He was stationed at Ferguson’s Gulf on Lake Rudolph (renamed Lake Turkana) with a mission of helping to establish a fishing and crocodile meat cooperative. The assignment was remote and living conditions were harsh, with a need to alternate time at Lake Turkana with assignments elsewhere.
In a letter home John described routine visits by a Turkana girl who, while transporting a container of water on her head, would stop and test his Swahili, and then walk off mocking the results. John wrote frequently about the Turkana people, their environment, and the challenges of changing political and economic conditions of nationalism and emerging governments in Africa during the mid-1960s. He discovered the joy of the natural beauty of East Africa and of visits to Lake Nakuru, John wrote of sunsets “made pink” by flamingos.
John was a scholar and visionary. As an adolescent, he watched “Mr. Science,” exhausted the supplies and instructions of his chemistry set, and mastered the slide rule. Later, John attended “Boys’ State” and was a National Merit Finalist, though working almost full-time while in high school to help support his family. John learned early in life to suspect rhetoric about security, justice and opportunity, and to live without delusions.
Florida State University (FSU) attendance was made possible by a scholarship and by continued employment. He majored in mathematics and worked in the then emerging computer science program. Studies of Latin, German, Chinese, and Swahili balanced John’s scientific skill.
After arriving at FSU, John embraced the goals and actions of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Harassment (including hate mail) and arrests that accompanied his growing actions in CORE, such as marches and sit-ins, made it impossible to sustain support that was required to attend FSU.
After leaving FSU John found meaning and purpose in Peace Corps service. But his life ended prematurely. The remains of John’s body were found on the shores of Lake Nakuru, where he possibly witnessed his last sunset made pink by flamingos. John was 22 years old. His ashes were scattered over the Gulf of Mexico following a memorial service in Sarasota, Florida on November 21, 1965. John is loved and missed by his mother, Marietta, and his sister, brothers, and friends.
~photo and text submitted by John's family
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