Plainview knows dedication

September 21, 2018

PLAINVIEW — When the Peace Corps asked for volunteers, people here stepped up. Saturday marks the 57th anniversary of the day Congress passed the Peace Corps Act. In Peace Corps’ first year, four volunteers came from the Plainview area. When only 3,000 volunteers were selected nationwide, the town of 1,400 contributed more than its share of corps volunteers that first year.

Ken Flies was one of those four Plainview volunteers. At age 19, Flies went to Brazil where he assisted in getting a hydroelectric dam operational. The dam, initially constructed by German engineers, had been abandoned after funding ran dry before it was operational.

Flies was unsure initially why he was paired with a University of California Berkeley electrical engineer on the project. As they worked together, Flies found his partner brought engineering and theoretical experience to the effort while he had more applied knowledge and experience.

Flies had been working on his family farm and, at age 16, took a job at a packing company in Plainview, where he learned and applied mechanical and electrical skills. The practical experience working in a rural area and on farms made candidates from the area ideal for the Peace Corps, Flies said. The 3,000 volunteers were selected from 58,000 applicants. Flies said he believes Peace Corps recruiters looked for indications that people were not just willing to step forward, but also follow through.

“If you’re a farmer, when you start a job, you complete it,” he said. “When you’re up against the seasons, you have to complete jobs.”

Flies was one of 120 recruits training to work in Brazil.

Of them, 90 made it through training. Only 40 completed their service commitments.

Flies was stationed in a what was a remote area at the time. In addition to bringing the hydroelectric dam online, he was tasked with helping people there establish vegetable farms. He was 75 miles from the nearest airport and hospital — a journey that required crossing three rivers that didn’t have bridges over them from his location. There were two Jeeps and one truck in the county of about 2,000 people.

In a recent trip back to the area, he found roads, bridges, sewer and water systems serving the more than 30,000 people there now. Bustling farmers markets offer a variety of produce year-round.

“It’s like something that fell out of heaven,” Flies said.

To mark Plainview’s contribution, the first Peace Corps historic marker to be placed in the United States will be dedicated Saturday in Plainview. Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a declaration marking the day. The dedication ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. at the Great River Ridge Bike trailhead at the intersection Minnesota Highway 42 and Third Street in Plainview.

Following the dedication, Flies will be signing his memoir, “Into the Backlands,” at the American Legion Hall in Plainview. The memoir chronicles his experiences in Brazil in the early days of the Peace Corps.

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