Interview with Chip Levengood, December 9, 2021

Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project

Interview Summary

Chip Levengood served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1964 – 1966 in Costa Rica working in Rural Community Development. Chip became interested in the Peace Corps as an undergraduate at Yale University while exploring law school as a Political Science major. While considering a gap year and deferring law school acceptance, he responded to President Kennedy’s challenge to “… what you can do for your country.” So, Chip signed up. With no country preference, he was assigned to Costa Rica. His parents were a bit ambivalent about his decision, but the Peace Corps sent them a pamphlet entitled “Over My Dead Body” which helped them support his course of action. After graduation and a summer in Europe, Chip left after Labor Day for initial Peace Corps training at St. Louis University where he and about 90 other trainees spent over two months in language and cultural training. Chip felt that much of that initial training was not well delivered, especially from one particular Jesuit priest. The language training, taught by Cuban instructors, was good, but many other activities seemed inappropriate to his mission. About 50 of the original group were invited to Puerto Rico for additional training. At Radley they were housed in barracks and underwent further training based on “Outward Bound”. The aim was to build self-confidence through rigorous outdoor challenges including survival techniques. Then, Chip departed for Costa Rica, had a very brief in-country orientation, and was given his work assignment in the town of Orotina. The town, very agricultural, lies on a coastal plan; he stayed with a priest for a few days before moving in with a local doctor. The house had sporadic electricity, but he had his own room and shared a bath and shower without hot water. He ate mostly rice and beans and fried plantains. Because Chip had no formal duties nor organizational affiliation, he established his own itineraries and work schedule to survey Oerotina's needs while improving his Spanish. He visited farmers with agricultural extension agents to learn how the farmers planted and harvested corn, sugar, and papayas while observing the raising of cattle and pigs. He also worked with primary schools to introduce fertilizers, better seeds, and planting procedures through demonstration plots to change farmer's reliance on traditional techniques. Chip realized that the economy of the region operated on a cash-only basis with only the wealthy working with banks. Chip helped set up a village-based savings and loan, and he involved local leaders including members of the clergy to ensure fairness of the loan approvals. “Coopeoro” continued to function at least ten years after he completed service, and this microfinance institution helped spur the economic development of the Orotinans. Working through a development committee, Chip participated in building a raft system to cross a raging river to facilitate farmers' access to markets. Additionally, Chip helped coach the local high school basketball team to victories in national interscholastic competitions. For vacation, he and a fellow Volunteer (a Yale Classmate) traveled on the West Coast of South America, and Chip returned to the US via Guatemala and Mexico after service. At end of his service, Chip went through a mini-debriefing and physical exam and returned to the US where he immediately enrolled in an MBA program in Finance at Columbia University. He joined the International Division of the Philadelphia National Bank for the next 14 years. His business took him throughout Latin America including living with his family in Sao Paulo. Chip was then recruited to an executive position with JP Morgan on Wall Street where he managed a team responsible for southern European financial institutions. Morgan sent Chip and family to work and live in Brussels and Madrid for ten years) prior to his retirement. After retiring from banking, Chip focused on ingos. Through Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA), an early collaborator with the Peace Corps, and its series of mergers, for ten years Chip has chaired Relief International, a mid-sized ingo which provides humanitarian and development services in fragile settings. He currently serves as a Director of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) and Chair of its Governance Committee. Chip also serves as Vice-Chair of US Vote Foundation, a non-partisan democracy promoting 501c3 and as co-President of the Yale Club of Spain, testaments to his internationalization because of Peace Corps service.

Interview Accession

2021oh1108_pcrv0477

Interviewee Name

Chip Levengood

Interviewer Name

Donald C. Yates

Interview Date

2021-12-09

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Levengood, Chip Interview by Donald C. Yates. 09 Dec. 2021. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.

Levengood, C. (2021, December 09). Interview by D. C. Yates. Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.

Levengood, Chip, interview by Donald C. Yates. December 09, 2021, Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.





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