Carol Kocan (T-8) 

June 9, 2008

There is an old black and white picture sitting on our library.  In this picture you can see this young woman in her twenties, so young and full of life. It is Carol.  She is sitting on a wall and behind her you can see part of Istanbul.  Every day I come home and look at this picture and every time I think the same thing; “Boy, she looks like the same Carol I met three decades later”.  It is true, she did not change one bit. I know she had same qualities when she was twenty. She loved people and animals, helped them both. She loved Turkey and Turkish people. She was an honest, determined, hard working person who tried to teach and show everyone how they can be good. She was as close to a perfect human being as I can think.

I met Carol when I came to Chicago the first time in 1989.  In all honesty I do not remember where or how I met her. But the moment I befriended her I knew I had a friendship that would last for a lifetime. Whenever I mentioned I needed something, Carol was always there for me, even for the smallest things.  She was there when I got married and brought my wife to Chicago.  She helped my wife to get familiar with the United States. You should have seen the face of my wife had when she met Carol for the first time. An American who can speak Turkish as good as herself, imagine that!  From that moment on, she was part of our family. She later became the Godmother of my daughter.  Every Christmas Carol brought a present for my daughter and she always tried to teach her valuable lessons.  My daughter loved, no, still loves, Carol just as she loves her grandmothers.  My daughter says and I quote; “Carol was a very nice person to both people and animals and I loved her so much.  I miss her so much in my heart”.

As you can see Carol was a very big part of our lives and we had a big emptiness when we lost her.  She was not just a friend; she was an older sister, a guardian Angel, a packet of goodness, all in one body.  She will live in our hearts as long as we live!
                                                          — Mehmet/Demet/Deniz Canan Kerpisci, Bourbonnais, IL

A Remembrance for Carol Kocan

On behalf of her Girl Scout family, it is a pleasure to share this remembrance of my good friend, Carol Kocan.  

When Carol left the Peace Corps, she started a career with the Girl Scouts. She would remain with the organization for more than 40 years.  During that time, she held a number of management positions including Communications Director for the Girl Scout council that served Chicago’s southern suburbs.  

When Carol passed away on June 9, 2008, the Board of Directors of the Girl Scouts of South Cook County passed a resolution dedicating the Communications Room at its Friendship Center in Country Club Hills, IL to Carol’s memory. Girl Scout events offered at the Friendship Center focus on issue-oriented programs affecting the personal development of girls in today’s society, gender equity, body image, media messages, and appreciation of diversity.  It seemed a perfect venue for Carol’s memorial.  

On June 30, 2009, a formal ceremony was held at the Friendship Center to dedicate Carol’s Room.  Carol’s brother, Michael Kocan, and about 70 volunteers and co-workers were present when, Girl Scout Board Chair, Maureen Jamrock, unveiled the memorial plaque.  

The values inherent in the Peace Corps’ mission, world peace and friendship, stayed with Carol for a lifetime and established a standard for how she lived her life in the real world.  The principles she lived by broadened the perspective and influenced the thinking of her family and friends.  It was my good fortune to be one of her many friends.  
                                                                     — Donna Rahn-Thamm

My Dear Friend Koke

My friendship with Carol Kocan, known to us as “Koke,” began during our Peace Corps training at Princeton University in 1965.  We were part of Turkey 8, a large group of volunteers selected to teach English. While I was sent to teach in Konya, Koke was sent to the small town of Eregli, several hours from Konya.  

Koke and I spent many vacations together traveling all over Turkey, Greece, and Egypt.  We had wonderful adventures traveling with Turkish teachers as well as fellow Peace Corps Volunteers.  After finishing our two years we traveled through Europe together, after which our ways parted for many years.  However separated we were in distance, our friendship always continued. 

In May of this year I had the privilege of spending a week with Koke shortly before her death.  She had fought a long battle with cancer, and I was honored that she welcomed me to her bedside during this trying time.  We had a wonderful week, full of laughter and reminising.  I got a glimpse into her life after Turkey – her years of dedicated service to the Girls Scouts, her wonderful devoted friends who ministered to her every day, her neighbors who were constantly available and eager to help, her devoted brother and his partner always on call.   

While Koke had left Turkey, however, Turkey had never left Koke,  She had loyal Turkish friends who cared for her deeply.  One Turkish couple, Mehmet and Demet, and their little daughter Canan came each day with food and friendship. Koke’s Chicago apartment was a Turkish museum, full of artifacts and photos and carpets.  I know that her last days were peaceful because she was able to stay in this familiar environment which so defined her life.  Koke’s love of Turkey and the Turkish people is a wonderful testimonial to our Peace Corps experience. 

While in my mind I have so many rich memories of Koke, the picture that I love to recall is the 40th Peace Corps Reunion in Washington when all of us paraded across the bridge to Arlington along with all of the other returned Peace Corps Volunteers.  At one point the Turkish flag was given to Koke, and she became our flag bearer.  She was so proud to have this honor, and I clearly recall the joy on her face. As we climbed the hill a young Americorp volunteer came to us and said, “Thank you for your service.”   

Koke, thank you for your service to Turkey and to Turks since 1965.  Thank you for your  life of dedication to the Girls Scouts.  And for those of us who were privileged to accompany you on any part of your life journey, thank you for your friendship.  We will miss you.
                                                                      — Pat Corcoran

For Carol
19 Sep 2009

Carol Kocan was one of the smartest, kindest, nicest people I have ever known. But above all, she was a friend and a great one!

Whenever you needed her she was there to laugh, cry and go through the pain with you. They say best things do not last long….that is why she is not around anymore. But sometimes when I close my eyes and think of her, her bright blue eyes, warm smile and the friendly voice I feel like she was never gone. I feel like in whatever situation I can just call up to her and say Carol, I have a problem and need support. 

Even though I was pretty young when I first met her, she never treated me like a child. She could get along with everyone. Age did not matter to her. 

She is one of the people that I am going to remember with a smile for the rest of my life.  So instead of goodbyes I will just say Dear Carol, see you around. 

I love you with all my heart.
                                                               — Gizem


Believing, in my innocence at the age of 21, that the best Peace Corps Volunteers volunteered for the most remote, difficult assignments, I volunteered and was sent to Ayla,  a village on the Syrian border.  I would be the only PC volunteer there.  I was treated wonderfully by the Principal of the school and his wife.  But there was talk of mountain passes, and being snowed in the winter.  And I had never lived alone before – in fact, I had six siblings.  I did not think I would make it.  I called PC headquarters, and was reassigned to Konya-Eregli. 

That is how I met Carol Kocan.  Somehow, we did not meet during the training of our group of 200 volunteers.  But this new assignment was very lucky for me because of Koke.  She wasn=E 2t crazy about teaching, but she adored the Turkish people, the PC volunteers we visited in Konya, and clearly felt at home in Turkey.  She went home to Chicago after the 2 years, but  she never really completely left Turkey and began her life long job with the Girl Scouts.  She continued to study Turkish, became ever closer friends  with the  Eregli Station Master’s family, visiting them in Turkey many times, and traveling together in the US. They were her second family, as were many other Turkish friends in the Chicago area.    

And she was a very good friend to me.  One or two things she didn’t approve of, such as my dating a young Turk secretly, twice in Konya and once in Ankara, but she did not scold me.    

It was a revelation to us that in Turkey people invited themselves to your home for tea in the evening. People in Eregli honored us with a visit almost every night.  Koke and I took turns going into the kitchen to make tea and arrange cookies on a plate, just to catch our breath.  It was a challenge because of the language, and because in the US we had become accustomed to being lonely sometimes.  We sometimes had no one to sip tea with.  And occasionally, in Turkey,  we turned off all the lights in the house so that it would appear that we were not at home, and read quietly in our beds, under the covers, or talk.  It was a bit of a challenge, all this sociability – about 200 students a day, teachers, and then late night tea.  But mostly, it just made us feel loved and welcomed and I don’t know what we would have done had we been Turkish and assigned to a neighborhood in suburban Minneapolis or Chicago, where people might have just ignored us.  Very lonely.  As it was, we were never lonely.  In those days, the fact that we were Americans was mostly a plus in Turkey.  We inherited  a house fully furnished by the male PC volunteers who preceded us in Eregli,  including a painting of President Kennedy by a Turkish student.  I wish now that I had saved it and brought it home.  

Visiting Koke when she was very sick with cancer, we talked about many things.  Her apartment was covered in Turkish rugs, wall hangings, souvenirs, photos.  It was beautiful, and as cozy as a house in a Turkish village.  She told me a number of stories.  One was a relatively recent one.  She said that a few months previously she had gone to Mass at a church she had been a member of for a long time.  Post 9/11,  the priest had said something derogatory about Moslems and Islam.  Koke was so saddened by this that she left the church and did not really find another one.  It was not only Moslems whom she had empathy for, but anyone and everyone who was unfairly, unjustly treated.  This was one of the things I loved the most about her.  Neither she nor I had had a “liberal” upbringing, but our experience in Turkey reeducated us, helped us to see things from a different perspective.  We were happier people because of this, I think.  

One such occasion of learning a different ethic than we had grown up with was an event in my classroom in Eregli.  I thought the kids in my class were “cheating” on a test.   I could not for the life of me figure out who was the “ringleader,” and so marched them all down to the principal’s office, who acted as he was surprised and said he would certainly find out who was responsible.  The teachers filled us in, as usual.  They told us that Turks like to help each other.  That is more important than winning to us, they said.  I had heard similar stories from a high school social studies teacher in Hopkins, Minnesota.  Turkish prisoners of war in Korea survived because they helped each other – fed the sick first, slept next to the sick to keep them warm, and so on.  Koke and I enjoyed all the give and take, though it was occasionally painful, when we were quizzed in the teacher’s room – especially the front page pictures of the dogs and hosing of people during the civil rights movement.  

Koke and I did not see a lot of each other for many years after we came back from Turkey,  but she came to my wedding, came when my first son was born, and in later years we talked on the phone often.  We talked about things we couldn’t talk about when we were in our early 20’s, but the seeds had been planted and they bloomed as soon as our lives settled down a little, when we were 4 decades older.  I miss her very much.
                                                                           —  Kay Zakariasen

Association of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Friends of Turkey