News & Features
From the Idyllwild Town Crier weekly newspaper, 07.31.08 edition.
and Pat Parish
By Marshall Smith, Correspondent
receive president’s award
Pine Cove residents Bob and Pat Parish received the President’s
Volunteer Service Award for more than 4,000 hours of lifetime volunteer
service on July 24 in Pasadena from Peace Corps Worldwide Director Ron
Tschetter, himself a veteran of the Peace Corps in the 1960s.
The award, presented as part of Tschetter’s initiative to recruit baby
boomers for Peace Corps service, resulted from President George W.
Bush’s formation of the President’s Council on Service and Civic
Participation. The Corporation for National and Community Service
administers the program and a council of Americans in all walks of life
— business, entertainment, sports and academia — select the honorees.
“We’re Kennedy kids,” said Bob Parish, referring to his and Pat’s
response to President John F. Kennedy’s call to national service. Bob
and Pat met and married while serving in Ethiopia as part of Kennedy’s
visionary new world service organization, the Peace Corps.
Kennedy’s call to service, issued in his 1961 inaugural address, now
recognized by historians as one of the great Presidential speeches,
struck resonant chords in Bob, Pat and millions of other young
Americans. They said they feel Kennedy’s words are just as important
today as they were when the president first spoke them: “If a free
society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who
are rich ... In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will
rest the final success or failure of our course ... a struggle against
the common enemies of man — tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.
The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor
will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that
fire will truly light the world ... And so, my fellow Americans, ask
not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your
The Parishes, as Returning Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV), continued to
answer that call, at significant risk to their own health, during the
aftermath in October 2005 of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural
disaster in U.S. history.
Bob, 65 at the time and living on what he calls “golden time,” had
survived multiple operations for colorectal cancer, months in the
hospital and the removal of cancerous sections of his intestine. Yet
there he and Pat were, on Katrina’s refugee front lines, aiding
displaced New Orleans residents at centers in Arkansas, putting in days
and nights that would tax significantly younger and optimally healthy
Pat, indefatigable and nurturing then as now, was at Bob’s side as
equal partner during those long Katrina volunteer hours, just as they
had been in Ethiopia four decades ago.
Asked about how it felt to receive the award, Pat said, “It’s sort of
embarrassing. Ron Tschetter went over the list of the many things we
had done. It felt like being with Ralph Edwards on ‘This Is Your Life.’
It was like my life in review, but it’s not over yet. It’s far from
over yet. There’s just a lot of things that have to be done and since
we have the time we want to be of service.”
The Parishes expressed gratitude to friends and neighbors in Idyllwild
and Pine Cove who help with looking after their home and other everyday
matters “so that [we] can go off and do our volunteer work.”
Not ones to rest on past laurels or take victory laps when there is
work to be done, the Parishes are trying to sponsor an Ethiopian
political refugee, Yetnaye Kebde, 33, for entry into the U.S. “So far,
though, we’ve gotten nothing but discouragement from [Congresswoman]
Mary Bono’s office. I suppose we’ll have to wait until there is a new
administration in Washington to make some adjustments in the Homeland
Security policy,” Pat said wistfully.
The Parishes are also involved in a women’s birthing project, in which
a Loma Linda physician, Larry Thomas, is helping train midwives to
serve in Ethiopia and help ameliorate the tragic number of deaths of
mothers in childbirth. “In Africa, the average is one in 19 mothers die
in childbirth. In Ethiopia, it’s one in seven,” said Pat.
Noting the 4,000 volunteer hours’ requirement for consideration for the
president’s award, Pat said, “I know that we’ve put in a lot more than
that.” And, based on the enthusiasm with which she and Bob are
discussing new projects, they will continue to volunteer, serve and
honor Kennedy’s call. The “energy, faith and devotion” the Parishes
have brought to a lifetime of service, more than an award, are living
testimony to what Alexis de Tocqueville said best characterizes the
American people — their commitment to service.
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