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Illinois Man Joins Peace Corps at Age 62

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ST. CHARLES, Ill. (AP) - Mike Dixon is, as he described it, obsessed.

Since learning he will live in Ukraine for the next 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer, the St. Charles architect has done more research about the country than the organization suggests, he said. In addition to taking a 10-week course in Russian, Dixon has watched a four-part documentary titled “Ukraine, the Birth of a Nation,” and has read books, such as “Borderland: A Journey through the History of Ukraine.”

Dressed in a jacket adorned with a Peace Corps button and Ukrainian flag pin, Dixon recently sat among friends and his research materials - including “Easy Russian Phrase Book,” “Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook” and “The Insider’s Guide to the Peace Corps” - at Arcedium Coffeehouse on the eve of his departure. After stops in Washington, D.C., and Frankfort, Germany, he was soon expected to be in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.

Dixon said many are making a big deal about him joining the Peace Corps at age 62. They have good reason. According to the Peace Corps, the average volunteer is 28 years old. Only 7 percent are older than 50.

Dixon has wanted to serve with the Peace Corps since his brother joined the organization in the late 1960s and, he said, he joined the Army. With a 32-year career as a historic preservation architect, Dixon has literally left his mark on the Tri-Cities. His projects include the Arcedium Coffeehouse, Hotel Baker, Dunham Castle, St. Charles Heritage Center and Batavia United Methodist Church. With the Great Recession stalling some of his projects, the timing finally became right to become a Peace Corps volunteer, Dixon said. He began the application process in 2009.

“I want to do some good,” Dixon said. “If I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it?”

Bill Klaves wrote Dixon a letter of recommendation for the Peace Corps. Klaves, the development director for Habitat for Humanity of Northern Fox Valley, said Dixon helped the organization with the design of a house in Elgin’s historic district about two years ago.

“He understood the vision of Habitat,” Klaves said. “He was happy to take on the challenge.”

Klaves gives Dixon a lot of credit for giving up his life in the United States to help the underprivileged elsewhere in the world, he said.

“I think it’s great when somebody gets to realize a long-term dream,” Klaves said.

Unlike his time in the Army - he served as a medic - Dixon said he is looking forward to putting his architectural skills to good use. He is told his focus in Ukraine will be in community development. He will likely work out of a mayor’s office, he said.

He doesn’t yet know where he will be stationed in Ukraine. He will spend three months with a host family as he undergoes training before receiving his assignment, he said.

Dixon said he intends to have fun and carry out the Peace Corps’ goals, which include showing other cultures what Americans are like and helping Americans better understand other cultures. He plans to document his adventures on a blog and has made arrangements to correspond with students at a St. Charles middle school and at St. Peter School in Geneva, he said.

In preparation for his journey, Dixon said, he has packed away his belongings, changed banks and paid his St. Charles Kiwanis Club dues in advance.

“It’s interesting what you have to do to close out a life and start a new one,” Dixon said.

His service with the Peace Corps is set to end June 15, 2013. Although he doesn’t plan to return to the states until then, he asserts he isn’t abandoning his life here. He views it more as linking lives, he said.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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