Giving Peace a chance

Local couple to help Ukrainians enhance economic development

February 13, 2005

Index-Journal senior staff writer

Greenwood residents Mark and Virginia Pulver have signed up for two years of service with the Peace Corps. They will leave the United States in March for Ukraine. Virginia is a former JROTC instructor at Emerald High, while Mark is the school’s television production instructor and computer technician.

There are 33 letters in the alphabet used by Ukraine, characters that share only a fleeting relationship with English. While it shares a few things with Russian and Polish, it also has its own set of unique grammar rules, vocabulary and usage.
Mark and Virginia Pulver have about three months to learn this language as they prepare for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps. The couple submitted their application for service on April 1, and spent the rest of the year waiting for a response.
“We went around thinking about it all year — but not talking about it — because we didn’t know if we were going to get selected,” Virginia said.
During the wait, Mark found out he was diabetic. While the problem is under control, he said it limited his eligibility to certain kinds of environments.
He said he was concerned that his background would hold him back, and that diabetes might be the final straw.
“I have a lot of education, but no degree,” he said. “Their advertising always makes you feel like, if you don’t have a degree, just stay away. And it’s not true.”
Three days after returning from Christmas vacation, they got a call advising them that a package would soon be arriving. Even though their general destination has been determined, the former United Soviet Socialist Republic country in Eastern Europe has a cultural gulf that will make training a bit complicated.
Russian and Ukrainian languages are fairly similar, but still different enough to qualify them each as individual languages. The closer the Pulvers are to Russia, though, the more likely they will be required to learn Russian.
Mark is the television production instructor and computer technician at Emerald High. Virginia is a former Air Force JROTC instructor at the same school.
“I felt like we were at a point in our lives when our children were raised and gone,” Virginia said. “I had this vision that we’d sit around complacent, watching Home and Garden TV on Saturday night worrying about what color to paint the walls. I just can’t see that being the rest of my life.”
The couple will work with Ukrainian businesses to develop processes to enhance economic development. They will be allowed to assess the needs of the community and devise a project of their own.
Mark said he’ll have to learn how to give up control of the kitchen, since they will have to live with a Ukrainian family.
“I’ve basically cooked every meal in the house for 25 years,” he said. “I’ve spent most of the last year learning how to cook for diabetes, learning to cook low-fat.”
“Now we’re going to a country where everything is pork, potatoes and cabbage,” Virginia said.
The couple have been sharing e-mails with other Peace Corps volunteers participating in the same training session. When they leave the country, they will be allowed to take only 100 pounds of items with them — so packing strategies are important.
Because it is so difficult to match couples with a community’s needs, few volunteers are married. Most — about 90 percent — are under age 50, which will mean the Pulvers will be among the senior members of any Peace Corps group.
“We hope we’ll be able to be parental figures for some of the volunteers,” Virginia said.
Volunteers are required to maintain ties to some kind of educational institution. Mark will join with Emerald High, while Virginia is adopting an Arizona school their grandchildren attend. Photos and diaries of their trip will be posted on
The Pulvers have known each other since their own high school days, where they were debate team partners.
“The topic was something to do with ‘mandatory universal service,’” Virginia said. “This was the Vietnam era, and Mark was a peace-freak guy with long hair and a headband.”
Her future husband was a conscientious objector to the war, but said he was not opposed to the idea of military service.
“Unlike a lot of people who said they were conscientious objectors, I was registered,” he said. “I did serve, but I chose a service where I did not have to carry a gun. (This) status is not against the military, it’s against killing.
“We were assigned guns, but I never saw them,” he said.
Military service is like any other kind of service project, he said. Service projects are a means to repay a community, while military service requires a much broader payment plan.
“The military, to us, was a way to pay back the country,” he said.
When Mark was discharged, Virginia enlisted in the Air Force.
“I was able to get my associates, my bachelors and my masters,” she said. “For the first couple of years he was Mr. Mom. He stayed home and took care of the kids. It was good for us — we learned a lot about each other.”
While they were both involved with non-profit groups for most of their marriage, the death of their 26-year-old son Caleb in 2002 jump-started an interest in service projects. At the prompting of Emerald High students they helped found a library in the African nation of Malawi.
“When our son died we started thinking about doing things outside of the school,” Mark said. “The students got us started with a project helping to get books to Africa. We spent a year getting books for the library in Africa, and have people from all over the United States sending books to this library.”
The Caleb Library now boasts one the country’s largest book collections.
“It’s got books in it, but now we have to sustain it,” Virginia said. “It got us thinking about how you use your life, and the kind of choices you make in your life.”
The couple will leave home Feb. 25, the anniversary of Caleb’s death. The will have orientation in Chicago, and leave in March for Kiev, Ukraine.
On their way out of the country, the Pulvers plan to donate their car to National Public Radio.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen when we come back,” Mark said. “We’re going to come back here, because our house is here. And then we’ll decide from there.”