Interview with Frederick Lange, December 8, 2021
Project: Peace Corps: The Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Oral History Project
Interview SummaryFrederick Lange served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1969 – 1972 in Micronesia and then in Liberia, Africa, working in Education (teaching Secondary School Math and Science) and Agricultural Development. Fred was recruited by the Peace Corps as an undergraduate at Cleveland State University (Ohio), responding to President Kennedy’s challenge to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". His friends and family disagreed and expressed concern with his decision to serve, but he was determined. A week after graduation in June of 1969, Fred joined a group of recruits at San Jose State College (California) where they received vaccinations and psychological evaluation. (He was surprised at the number of married couples in his group that were disqualified.) His group flew to Hawaii, Guam and then Truk Island. Then they sailed by freighter to the island Pon’ape, anchoring outside the reef at the opposite side of the island from the capital, Kolonia. With 20 other volunteers, he was canoed to shore. They were welcomed by the king of the region with a traditional ceremony that included a toast with sakau, the local narcotic beverage. Fred stayed with a host family for three months, getting training in the native language and culture at the Jesuit mission. Near the end of his cross-cultural training, Fred's assignment to teach native high school teachers how to teach chemistry was canceled due to newly imposed budgetary constraints. He returned home to Cleveland, Ohio and did substitute science teaching for a couple months before accepting a high school teaching assignment in Liberia. After attending two months of cross- cultural and teacher training on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, he joined a charted Peace Corps flight to West Africa. On New Year's Day of 1970, about 50 volunteers got off the flight with him in Monrovia, Liberia. The plane then continued with flying new volunteers and staff to other West African capitals. His group took inter-town taxis from the airport to the upcountry town of Gbarnga where they were welcomed with traditional festivity by the Minister of Education. Fred continued upcountry to the town of Zorzor with a smaller group of new volunteers assigned to live in Lofa County. He expected to teach high school chemistry in Zorzor to members of the Lorma tribe whose language he attempted to learn. With further cultural training, Fred learned about the animist religion of the area and of “secret societies” that taught traditional customs and skills to children. The Peace Corps had rented houses in the town with five or six volunteers to a house during training and instruction at the local Lutheran mission. Again, Fred's assignment was canceled. This time because the volunteer he was to replace at the Zorzor mission high school decided at the last minute to extend his service and stay another year. So. Fred transferred to teach Chemisty at the government high school in the city of Monrovia. After a few months sweating the heat, humidity, stench and commotion of a coastal tropical city, Fred learned that one of his training group friends suddenly wanted to quit his new post in Lofa County. Fred eagerly stepped forward to take over the vacated post in the town of Kolahun located deep in the rain forest where the people held close their fascinating traditions and at 2000 ft elevation, the climate was ideal. There, he took on teaching in the government school and worked with junior high school level math and science, six classes a day (three in each subject area). Fred had a house to himself with a guest room for visiting expats. The people of Kolahun are mostly of the Gbandi tribe and their language is akin to the Lorma he learned during training in Zorzor. With a lack of volunteers dedicated to agriculture development in Lofa County, the Peace Corps tried to get volunteers in education and health to take on agricultural projects. One that interested Fred was to test acceptance of three hybrid upland rice varieties by local farmers. Unable to gain the cooperation of any Kolahun farmers to grow the hybrids, Fred turned it into a science experiment for one of his classes. In the experiment, the class planted plots for each variety along with the local strain to compare yields. During a couple months of vacation time between school terms each year, Fred traveled extensively throughout West Africa exploring the rich cultural diversity. After his tour of duty which he extended one year, Fred returned home, taught high school science in an inner city, and then went into junior college teaching in mathematics and economics. He transitioned into commercial software development and taught part time until his retirement. Fred feels deep passion for his Liberian students as he saw a real thirst for education and an understanding of the discipline needed for success and wished his students in America shared the same enthusiasm. He has life-long involvement with the Northern Ohio Returned Volunteer Association (NORVA) and the Friends of Liberia groups which are supported by returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
Interview KeywordPeace Corps (US) Country of Service: Micronesia, Liberia Dates of Service: 1969 – 1972 Peace Corps Volunteer Job: Education, Agriculture Peace Corps (US): 1960-1970, 1970-1980 Language: Banto Language Training: Pon’Ape, Micronesia and Monrovia, Liberia Cultural Training St. Thomas, BVI, and Zorzor, Liberia
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Interviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
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Lange, Frederick Interview by Donald C. Yates. 08 Dec. 2021. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Lange, F. (2021, December 08). 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.
Lange, Frederick, interview by Donald C. Yates. December 08, 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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