John Guy LaPlante ’51
In December 2009, just before returning from his two-year tour of Charnihiv, Ukraine, John Guy was formally recognized as the oldest Peace Corps volunteer in the world. During his tour, he taught English and coordinated English and French clubs.
From the winter 2008 issue of Assumption Magazine:
LaPlante isn’t crazy, just adventurous. A curious traveler and consummate communicator, writing has been his profession and his ticket to some of his greatest adventures. Last fall, his masterful way with words, both written and spoken, took him to Ukraine where he is teaching English in a university as a Peace Corps volunteer after completing 12 weeks of intensive language and cross-cultural awareness training. LaPlante, who will celebrate his 79th birthday in April, is committed to the Peace Corps until January 2010.
“I look forward to it as a wonderful adventure,” LaPlante said just before he left. “It’s a chance to do a little something for my country. I was never in the armed services, plus the Peace Corps can be very attractive for senior citizens.” On paper, LaPlante retired at 62, but it never seemed to stick. With increased life expectancy and better health, vigorous American retirees like LaPlante eschew what he calls “armchair retirement” to work, travel and otherwise stay active in their later years. He says that he has never golfed in his life and has no plans to start now.
LaPlante, who grew up in Pawtucket, RI, and lived and worked in Massachusetts for most of his life, calls home “the pretty little village of Deep River,” in the estuary of the Connecticut River . He spent 15 years as a journalist, primarily at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette , where he began as a reporter and moved up to wear a variety of different hats, including bureau chief and editor of the Telegram ’s popular magazine, “Feature Parade.” He left the news business to become the director of public relations at Assumption, where his fund-raising responsibilities included the College’s first capital fund drive.
After leaving Assumption, LaPlante established his own public relations firm. In his later years, he has worked to promote a variety of organizations, and has freelanced, consulted, written a newspaper column and published articles and books about his travels. He celebrated his 75th birthday by taking a solo trip around the world. “I believe that every college kid should travel abroad independently, with a backpack and on a shoestring (budget),” he said. “They will learn a lot. Maybe the most important thing they’ll learn is about themselves. The back of my Around the World book has some 50 pages of practical, how-to info on how to travel safely, economically and more effectively.
” Five years ago LaPlante went to Alaska with a videographer to produce a travelogue about Alaska’s extensive public ferry system. He has published several books, Around the World at 75, Alone Dammit! , and a companion photo album, as well as a new book, Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83! . His first book was translated into Chinese. After the marketing launch in Shanghai, he traveled to 10 nearby countries. That trip motivated him to write his latest book, which includes 300 photos.
“I stopped in Hawaii on my way home,” he said. “After I bought the (airline) ticket I realized I would be visiting my 50th state,” LaPlante said. “That really tickled me. I never set out to visit all 50 states. It just happened.
” Visiting libraries, primarily public ones, is a serious interest that LaPlante has pursued during his many years of traveling the world. “I’ve visited libraries in Paris, London, Prague, Singapore and Nairobi, and in tiny cities in Mexico and Canada and South Africa ,” he said. “I consider public libraries the world’s most important institutions. What would we do without our libraries? I consider Andrew Carnegie one of our greatest visionaries and public benefactors. LaPlante has three grown children and four grandchildren. His son, Arthur, is a trial lawyer in Florida, his daughter Monique is a lawyer in California, and son Mark is a professor at the University of Georgia. His pastimes have been many, but reading remains his first love, especially newspapers, which he hopes to have easy access to in Ukraine. “The Peace Corps surprised me,” he said. “I speak and write French, thanks to l’Assomption, so I expected to go to West Africa, but I was assigned to Ukraine. ‘Volunteers have to be flexible,’ the Peace Corps says, so I’m being flexible. Now I’m studying the Cyrillic alphabet. It has 33 characters. Most of them are unrecognizable to us.” LaPlante says he packed long underwear to face the second biggest challenge of living in Ukraine— the weather. Despite the cold, he is looking forward to the warmth of the Ukraine people and the country’s “splendid architecture and rich culture.” “Right now they’re struggling to build a real democracy,” he said. “Very commendable. I think teaching English is the most important thing anyone can do in any Third World country.”
Last updated 8/3/10