Joseph Kauffman, Peace Corps architect, dies at 84

Educator and advocate of service

October 24, 2006
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Joseph Kauffman designed the first Peace Corps training program. Copy photo from 1962

One of the developers of the Kennedy administration’s fledgling Peace Corps, Joseph F. Kauffman (SED’58) died of cancer on September 29. He was 84. Kauffman set up a grueling training regimen for Peace Corps volunteers and tried to position the service organization as a peaceable alternative to the military draft.

“Joe was an idealist and innovative thinker who was well ahead of his time in understanding the educational power of service learning,” reads a statement from John Wiley, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where Kauffman was a faculty member and administrator for much of his career.

The son of an immigrant grocer, Kauffman was born on December 2, 1921, in Providence, R.I., and grew up in Norwood, Mass. He was a big-band crooner in the late 1930s and early 1940s, touring and playing such venues as the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving for four years with the 85th Infantry Division in North Africa and Italy.

Kauffman earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1949 from Denver University on the G.I. Bill, which he would praise for the rest of his life. He received a master’s in sociology from Northwestern University in 1950 and a doctorate in education from BU in 1958.

Working in the office of R. Sargent Shriver, he was an early advocate and architect of the Peace Corps and from 1961 to 1963 its first director of training. He was responsible for preparing volunteers from more than 60 colleges and universities for overseas assignments.

From 1965 to 1968 Kauffman was dean of student affairs at UW–Madison. He was well-liked and fair-minded, but not one to take any guff, and his role during turbulent campus demonstrations has been chronicled in the book They Marched into Sunlight, by David Maraniss, and the PBS documentary Two Days in October.

From 1968 to 1973 he was president of Rhode Island College in Providence, then returned to UW–Madison to teach in the department of educational administration. To this day, the Peace Corps branch he helped establish at UW–Madison sends record numbers of volunteers overseas.

Kauffman is survived by a daughter, Marcia Krasnow, of Norwood; a son, G. Frank, of Los Angeles; three granddaughters; and two sisters, Charlotte Martin, of Sandwich, Mass., and Evelyn Blumberg, of Falmouth, Mass.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to HospiceCare, Inc., 5395 E. Cheryl Parkway, Madison, WI 53711, or to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, 1848 University Ave., Madison, WI 53726.

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Joseph Kauffman, Peace Corps architect, dies at 84