Remembering Mom and Dad

Kevin Zuiker created this video tribute to Francis and Clarice Zuiker:



Forgetting about the Peace Corps (almost)

By Joseph Zuiker
Honolulu, Hawaii

Excuse me but last week I almost forgot it was Peace Corps Week.

For whatever reason I failed to give a shout-out to the Peace Corps and I suspect that many others not only did not remember that it was Peace Corps Week but don’t even know that the “Corps” is still alive, quietly providing volunteers to hundreds of impoverished communities throughout the world.

And make no mistake about it, any lack of recognition of the Peace Corps means that thousands of persons (young and old) might short-change themselves by never taking a chance on a real life experience by becoming Peace Corps volunteers. And short-changed they will be according to my point of view and the view of hundreds of other returned PCVs currently residing in Hawaii.

You see when I was a college student (50 years ago) being a PCV was front and center as my priority in life (not buying a big car, owning a big condo or creating a big bank account). Each week one of my friends would declare that he or she had been accepted into the Peace Corps and were heading off to some far away foreign location to help communities while representing the best interests of the USA.

Oh how I longed to join those fellow-travelers as a volunteer but I had to complete my college courses (including my two below average grades attempting to learn to speak Spanish). Eventually I did get my chance to create on my own “rich life” as a PCV in (you guessed it) a Spanish speaking country (the Dominican Republic).

After a few months of general instruction about being a “community organizer” and additional language training in Puerto Rico my fellow volunteers and I made our way thru the war-torn capitol of the Dominican Republic and headed off to our assigned communities to “make the world better.” My host community was called Santiago de La Cruz and was located in the far northwest corner of the Dominican Republic, several miles from the border with Haiti.

My new home happened to be inhabited by subsistence farmers scratching out their daily existence without good land, without any real tools and without enough regular rain to grow anything remotely resembling a “cash” crop. It was in that small community of wonderful souls that my life as a volunteer was planted, cultivated and blossomed ever so slowly. In the early months of this journey I could barely organize myself since I was nothing more than a very skinny, almost non-Spanish speaking American with a very bad stomach due to an onslaught of potent germs brought to my farmhouse on a daily basis hidden in untreated water from the local stream.

During my entire first year as a PCV I struggled due to my inadequate language skills and my inability to make sense out of a way forward for “my community”. The villages had no water source, no electricity for their homes, rotting one-room school houses and literally no time to do anything other than try and make enough money each morning to pay for a meager supper that same night. And on top of all that the entire country was only beginning to crawl out from the darkness and lack of neighborly trust imposed upon them during the 30-year Trujillo dictatorship.

It is fair to say that during that first year I constantly questioned my seeming lack of success in the community and my feeling that I was just a foreign visitor taking up space until it was time to return home after my two year stint ended. But every time I gave in to my self pity, even a little bit, I thought of the many little kids in the community that affectionately called me the “Americano” and I thought about their hard working parents who openly invited me into their homes each night to dream in the darkness about ways to give their children a few more opportunities in life.

Over and over I realized that even though I was incredibly frustrated with my seeming lack of success as a community organizer I was not willing abandon my new community. And then slowly but surely my patience did pay off. I learned to tell a few jokes in Spanish and the old men of the village taught me to enjoy a good rum and coke at the neighborhood bar after a hard day’s work. And best of all my neighbors agreed to work together to build a six room community school, using my help, their own sweat labor and financial assistance and building from the good old USA.

I did finish out my full two-year term as a PCV. During that time the community school got built and I even helped initiate an investigation into the possibility of damning up a small creek high above the village in an attempt to provide clean water to the villagers. In fact the water system was eventually built by the villagers (and another PCV) using their community building skills developed during our school project.

For over forty years thousands of residents of my community have had access to clean drinking water while their children were educated in a semi-modern school building. Those years have passed much too quickly but that school continues to provide better educational opportunities for the people of the village than their parents ever dreamed of during their lifetimes. In fact that little school produced an attorney now working in Paris, a veterinarian in charge of animal inspection at the international airport at Santo Domingo and a student in the first class of native born Dominican air traffic controllers, among many others successful students.

In my opinion, my two years working as a Peace Corps volunteer were some of the best years of my life. Those years of hard work and constant rededication to a seemingly uncertain task made me the person that I am in this the eighth decade of my life. And best of all, I know for certain that the community that I served came to better know and understand a skinny “Americano” and appreciate the USA who sent them their volunteer. I know that because last week during Peace Corps Week, I got an email informing me that the people of “my” community had decided to name a street after me.

Fancy that! Little Joey Zuiker from the south side of Chicago has a street named after him in the Dominican Republic.

For me the Peace Corps is an unforgettable experience that just keeps getting “richer.”



Time for a new chronicles

Newsletter time?



Check list for when you go to the mall

Malia had the unfortunate experience to lose something of great value recently. We asked her to share what she learned so that others might not make the same mistake.

I learned a tough lesson that happens to a lot of people. I went to the mall and i forgot to take my ipod touch out of my purse and take some of my money out,so when we were at a store I set my purse down and because I started out with one bag and ended out with three it was hard to hold all things. I had fifty-one dollars in there and a ipod touch and I lost it. And now I am warning you all of these things. This was the hardest lesson I had learned in my life so far.

Be careful.

Malia Zuiker
age 9 and a 1/2

UPDATE: After a couple of months, a phone call from the department store in the mall let us know that the purse, with iPod but sans cash, had been found.



Good news: Peace Corps alive and well

I am in Santo Domingo for the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps by JFK in 1962. And I have good news for you – stop worrying, the Peace Corps is alive and well, thank you.

I admit I had some doubts as I was flying from Honolulu top the Dominican Republic last week. Were my two years in the Peace Corps between 1965 and 1967 a good use of my youth? Did I make any difference? Are the deals of the Peace Corps that I so admired relevant today? And are there any people of spirit (young or old) willing to spend there time in the Peace Corps in modern times?

Well after three days of laughing and crying with my old PCV friends and two days listening to both the current volunteers and Dominican citizens who were affected by us Peace Corps volunteers over the years, I have news for you: stop worrying.

Yesterday we spent the entire day meeting current volunteers who are working in country. They continue to do many of the same things that we did (work with youth groups, promote agriculture, encourage conservation of natural resources, promote small community based tourism) but they also do many things we never could do. For example they are promoting a television soap opera that will get teenagers involved in analyzing life’s problems in areas of sex, friendship, family relations, etc. Once they are finished with their ten-part television series and the teaching manual that accompanies the program they will be able to reach thousands of young persons who will be encouraged to make positive life choices in a complex world.

And in case anyone thinks “Kennedy’s Kids” — as we were initially called — are a waste of taxpayer dollars, they should have been in the room this morning as we listened to the voices of Dominican citizens.

These leaders in the Dominican community now direct health care, agriculture, environmental programs, etc. Each one of them spoke from their heart as they confirmed that they were personally influenced by Peace Corps volunteers who provided them with positive growth examples with which to form their careers and in each case greatly supersede their wildest dreams for a better future.

As one Dominican leader said this morning, “We saw these young Americans move into our rural villages and share our rural hardships without ever complaining. We saw these Americans (daily) demonstrate persistence, hard work and confidence in our ability to improve ourselves.” As he then stated with those images before us Dominicans had no choice but to follow their example and help ourselves.

The session ended with a long list of the tangible and intangible accomplishments that these Dominican citizen leaders felt the peace Corps volunteers had made toward the development of their country. Imagine that — great accomplishments in all phases of the development of the Dominican Republic without the expenditure of one single bullet.

Yes, the Peace Corps is alive and thriving in the hills, mountains and urban areas of the Dominican Republic this very day. Stop worrying.

PS. More news next week as I return to the village where I worked over 46 years ago. Prediction: I will be sore from the hugs I receive from my long-ago friends and tired from laughing and crying over the memories that we shared in those days.



The Concrete Tree

On the 10th anniversery of the death of the my father (Frank the Beachcomber), I wrote this little piece on family and heritage. Thought some of you might enjoy it. It is written 200 years in the future.

Hurrying home from school on his solar powered skate board, Zander was very excited and a little bewildered. His homework school assignment was to dig down below the surface of the ground and see what he could find. This puzzled him as the concept of digging down never occurred to neither him nor any of his family members. After all, his entire city, and indeed the entire country were covered in concrete. No one ever talked about what was below the concrete. Everyone assumed it was just more concrete. Why everything in the country was built up and not down. Every building in his city was built on concrete that went up and up and up. That is why Zander and his family lived on the 1600th floor of the “high rise.” Seeking an answer, Zander pointed his laser at the stars and instantly he was connected with his sister who had settled on the moon about 55 years ago. His sister scoffed at him and his teacher, and the idea that anything could be found below his feet. Zander felt the same way, but concerned about his assignment, he decided to give it a try.

With his carbon titanium drill, he pointed at the concrete and began to watch in wonder as concrete split and cracked in all directions. After several minutes of layer upon layer of concrete, the young lad was about to give up when he began to see small brown patches of something that was definitely not concrete. Calling to his family above, they all gathered around and stood in amazement at the scene. Many of the younger members of the family could only look on in bewilderment at the site of soft brown concrete. However, his grandfather, wise and knowledgeable at the age of 126 said he seemed to recall long before the concrete, there was a time when dirt covered the planet. He was quite sure that this is what was spewing up from their feet.

Zander reached into the “so-called dirt” and pulling hard retrieved an old, rusty metal box with a lock on it. His mind began to wonder at what was inside the box. It took but mere seconds to break the lock and retrieve what was inside. To his disappointment, it was nothing more than a drawing of what looked like a man with many arms, and writings about someone or something. The above mentioned picture seemed to show a very skinny man with many, many arms. What was the meaning of this picture? No one knew; no one that is except great grandmother. She vividly recalled a time from her long ago past when the world had not been a concrete jungle, and grass and flowers and trees flourished. But that was so long ago and those memories were crushed in her mind with the weight of a world of concrete and dullness all around her.

Grandma Zeta told the family that this was not the drawing of a man with many arms, but was rather a “family tree.” It was a depiction of the lineage of the family going back hundreds and hundreds of years. Grandma Zeta said that this was a “priceless” find. Didn’t seem that way to the rest of the family they stated.

Just then Xenia and Flander, two classmates of Zander ran up to the gathering. They too had busted up concrete near their homes and Xenia found many, many old silver and copper coins. They were very shiny everyone exclaimed, but since the country provided for all the needs of the people from birth to death, coins were of no value to anyone. Sorry Xenia they exclaimed. Flander then showed them what he had found on his excursion. He had found a small piece of metal with the words “Ford Mustang” on it. Inquiring of Grandma Zeta again, she recalled a time from her childhood when there were animals that roamed the planet. But as the planet grew and grew there was no place for both man and animals to co-exist, and soon the animals disappeared. Perhaps “Ford Mustang” was an animal back then—-then again maybe not. Not impressed with any of the findings, the family was set to go their separate ways when Grandma Zeta motioned them to listen and look for just a few more minutes. She began to explain what the “family tree” meant and how the knowledge of the past was more valuable and priceless to them than anything else on earth. Her mind began to come alive and she regaled them with stories of their past, stories of great-great-great-great grandpa “Cornelius Zuiker” who came to the United States from Holland as a boy of 14, eager to make a better life in America. Of his six children who became successful lawyers, businessmen, social workers, and homemakers, and who brought into this world children who served their country in the military and as volunteers across the planet. She told of family members by marriage, and of their children and their parents, who gave so much to others and asked for so little in return. With this knowledge, held deep in their hearts and minds, the family could put all their worries, be it financial, physical, or emotional to rest. Grandma concluded by reminding the family that no matter where they were at this time, whether on planet earth, the moon, or anywhere else, that this “family tree” was planted in something so much stronger that concrete.

This “family tree” was planted in a foundation of hard work, dedication, loyalty, and commitment, and that this “family tree,” of which Zander was a loyal and royal member, could never be uprooted or toppled, and could stand strong and proud against the storms of life.



The shape you take

For her summer reading project, my cousin, Geneva Kalinowski, read Step to Freedom, the book that Frank the Beachcomber and my father, Joseph, wrote together. This is the paper Geneva submitted to her teacher:

31 August 2010

The way you portray yourself as a person, shapes who you are to society. One wonderful man, Joseph F. Zuiker, shapes his life through many harsh and excruciatingly painful devastations. Although the pain contributes to the past, it also reflects what he has become today. The book STEP TO FREEDOM, by Francis C. Zuiker, depicts the events that happened to Joseph while he was in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic. While there, he was put to the test to determine weather he could help their country or not. Trust had to be built and friendships made, all while building a school. So what characteristics shape him as a person of kindness?

As Joseph ventured his way through the Dominican, he had a different mind set than the people. He was determined not only to make a difference for the culture, but also to make a difference in the lives of the citizens. His determination shapes who Joseph is today by one particular event that he overcame while in the Dominican Republic. As he was working toward making their society a better place to live, he encountered a problem that really needed to be fixed. The children of the Dominican Republic had horrible living conditions during the day. Their schools were not up to standards and the many children that were forced out of school because of its small size, were left with nothing to do. Joseph made it a priority to himself to recreate their school. Joseph feels a sense of purpose in his life to help others.

While striving to rehabilitate the society and school for the Dominicans, he ran into another problem. The Dominicans had a trust issue for Americans coming into their country. The Peace Corps in the past would help the economy of the Dominicans, but not as much the people themselves. Joseph built a honest bond with the Dominicans through many hard tasks. As a determined man in the peace corps trying to make a difference, Joseph had to show the citizens that he was one of them. Many people thought of him as a no-good rich American. He had to build electricity and lighting into the shack he was living in and the Dominican children offered to help if he could pay them. He needed the Dominicans to trust that he wasn’t just a good for nothing rich American, so he said no and worked on the lighting himself. The children later worked along side of him.

Helpful is a word that shapes the entire image of the life of Joseph F. Zuiker. Starting with the Peace Corps and ending with the school, Joseph has always been a big help. As said in the book STEP TO FREEDOM, while spending almost two years in the Crossroads of Santiago de la Cruz, Joseph helped the citizens rebuild their country. He wanted to make a difference in the older citizens and younger citizens lives. He was helpful because he not only created the idea to build the school, but he also contributed to the construction of the school and the quality of the education for the children.

Joseph Zuiker is a wonderful man with a big heart. While in the Dominican, he was determined to help the citizens, had to prove himself as an honorable man and was very helpful to the contribution of the school. These qualities and the events of which they are shown by Joseph Zuiker are only a few to display. These not only shape what he was in the peace corp, but also develop a sense of what he is today. My uncle, Joseph F. Zuiker is a wonderful man that cares for people of all kinds. Through this story I believe that the shape he developed was a big heart because of the caring things he does for others.



Memories of the Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions, and the Zuiker Family is full of happiness. My father and uncles go way back with the Hawks. As at the other Chicago stadiums, they spent countless hours during countless games vending sodas, popcorn, beer and hot dogs.

Here’s my father on one of his memories:

I worked some of the old Stanley Cup Finals against Montreal. One time I was on the third balcomy with beer selling like crazy. The fans were going nuts and I saw Pappin take a puck off the boards and simply deflect it from an odd angle right on to Mikita’s stick for a goal. The place went wild and I have never forgotten that shot.

When I was in high school, Dad took me to the old Chicago Stadium a couple of times for Blackhawks games. He’d greet some of the old-time vendors, and we’d get a free coke or two. The best part of the night was the first note of the national anthem — from that moment on, the crowd’s cheering drowned out the song, and there was no mistaking the passion or patriotism of Chicago fans.

Now, if the Cubbies could be as victorious.



Ice time

Long before the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, there was some great hockey in Park Forest, Illinois.



Another jamboree

The Zuiker Family will be gathering again this summer for another reunion and jamboree. Watch for pictures, videos, blog posts and more.