Dennis Pearson and Marcia Pearson

Dec. 3. 1942- Jan 31, 1967 and Oct. 28, 1942 – Jan 31, 1967


[From a letter to my parents dated February 7, 1967:]

I received two days ago perhaps the saddest news of my life.  Dennis and Marcy Pearson were found frozen to death near the ski resort on Uludağ Mountain near Bursa.  I have no idea what happened; only a short telegram from Ankara, announcing a memorial service. 

I had gotten to know Dennie and Marcy better than all but a handful of people in our group.  They were from Minneapolis [as was I].  They were in my small language class in Portland.  We sat one day in a park in Portland and talked of our reasons for coming to Turkey.  We have always enjoyed one another’s company, and Allen and I had several very enjoyable evenings in Ankara with them both last summer and the summer before. 

Dennie had had some rough luck in Turkey – a serious bout with amoebic dysentery, a fall from a horse that injured his arm, an unsuccessful operation on his arm in Germany this past fall, and indication that his injury may be permanent.  Of course, they missed by only a few days being in the place worst hit by the earthquake last summer [they had been away from their village near Erzurum at the time of the 1966 quake].  They never once complained within my earshot. 

They were quiet, very mature in some ways and very young in others.  They were a truly delightful couple whose motives for doing anything were always unselfish.  They were the kind of people that I wish the world had more of, rather than fewer.  They leave an empty spot within me that will not soon be filled.  I loved them both. — Sandy Pfunder (T-9)

That news was for me then and continues to this day to be perhaps the saddest news of my life.   We were in our village when villagers brought back sketchy news of two Peace Corps volunteers dying in the snow.  They failed to bring the newspaper detailing the story and, of course, had no names.  We went immediately into denial, fiercely making ourselves believe the story was probably not true and certainly not about anyone we knew.   I don’t remember why it was several days before we made a trip to our “shopping town”, maybe snow?   When we arrived in Malatya a few days later we took our stuff to Judy and Gretchen’s place (they were gone and I don’t remember if that was a surprise to us or planned) and went to our favorite restaurant.   I left Jim ordering our food and went to the post office.   I remember, now,  this morning exactly how I felt when I read the telegram and how desperate I was to get back to Jim, to tell him and find the only comfort I could hope for.   The memorial service was already past.   No other Americans in town.   We were alive.  We had each other.   We were very very sad.

The Pearsons were remarkable.  I saw Marcy mature in several ways. Dennis always a good sport about his physical problems.   They were, well, all the good things we all hope we can be.

Today, all I can do is memorialize them in my thoughts and in my heart. That I will do.

Thank you, Sandy, for reminding me about these wonderful people.
— Wing Barfoot (T-9)

Being one of the few married couples in the group (6 or 7 of us?), and being in the East as well, we were pretty close to Marcia and Dennis.  When this happened, we had just been removed from our village to Akçakoca, on the Black Sea, a few weeks before (probably because I had been asked to helped a group of women from the village write a letter [they were all illiterate] to the Land ministry…but that is another story), so we were told about it by the Turks, who brought newspapers of the ongoing story. Marcia and Denny were skiing, and got lost in a snowstorm, and inadvertently skied past the lodge.  When they did not show up, the Turks went into their
room, and took film out of their cameras, and developed the pictures, and published them in the paper. We were horrified, devastated, as you said, in denial, reading the details which sent us to our Turkish dictionaries. They sent out search parties, but not fast enough or far enough.  They actually survived for a number of days, being from Minnesota, and built a shelter out of pine boughs, and tried to make a design in the snow…There is more detail, but I cannot go on… We called in, or were called, I cannot remember, and went into Ankara in time for the memorial service. To this day, I can remember the details of that church and that service, how inconsolable I was, how angry I was with the platitudes, and how devastated I was, and it shook my faith to the
roots. To this day, I cannot go skiing (I have gone cross country, but cannot imagine doing downhill).

About the same time, I became pregnant with our first child; her middle name is Marcia.  In some way, I hope and believe that carrying her name, she is carrying a bit of Marcia’s spirit and kindness with her name. I still cry whenever I think of this (and am as I write this), such a terrible loss, such wonderful people, such contributions they would have made, had their lives not been so cruelly cut short.  I think that year, between losing Marcia and gaining our daughter, I/we truly grew up and came to take the world and our lives a whole lot more seriously, and have ever since. But I still miss them. And I appreciate the honoring of Peace Corps volunteers who have lost their lives while in the Peace Corps that happens at each Peace Corps conference. It is a reminder of how serious the commitment is. Losing friends at so young an age has had such a profound effect; it sounds like a platitude, but it truly makes one treasure each day.  I also lost the chair of my department at 44, he was a hemophiliac, and always understood that he lived on borrowed time, and I think I have had some of that sense ever since we lost the Pearsons…and have tried hard to make all our time count… Even if it makes me sad, I am glad that others remember as well, thanks for remembering Sandy and Wing. — Diana Pearce

PS  Rereading this, some might think I blame the Turks, but I do not; maybe it should not have happened and maybe it could have been prevented, but that is not the point, it happened, it was an accident.

More stories and remembrances of Marcia Ann and Dennis Pearson collected by Sandy Anderson

Association of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Friends of Turkey