By David May
Jamaica is a special place for John Adams. It is where he has served two tours with the Peace Corps and where he met his current wife.
Now at the retirement age of 67, the Mineral Wells resident is hoping the Peace Corps will send him back a third time.
Why, one asks.
“Why not,” comes Adams’ response. “It’s like a paid vacation, plus you are helping people.”
Since the 1960s, the Peace Corps says nearly 200,000 volunteers have lived and worked in 139 countries, serving and teaching people in developing countries by showing them ways to improve their quality of life. Teaching is what Adams does.
“It’s a way of giving a country expertise without giving them money,” said Adams in describing Peace Corps, which grew out of a challenge by then U.S. Sen. John F. Kennedy to University of Michigan students to serve their country and work to better people in other countries.
His two Peace Corps tours of Jamaica came exactly 30 years apart. The first time he went was in 1971. He went back in 2001.
“When I was there in the ‘70s, they were going communist and they all thought we were spies,” said Adams.
But the country has come a long way. Adams says he loves the people and the culture.
“The food is terrific,” said Adams. “A lot of curry, a lot of vegetables, a lot of things you never heard of before.”
Communicating with the countrymen is not difficult, but takes a little getting used. While English is the official language in Jamaica, they speak what is called Jamaican Patois, pronounced patwa, a French name for their English and African creole language that is largely unique to Jamaica.
“Down there, nothing happens on time,” said Adams. “If it rains, nothing happens.”
It was during his second tour of Jamaica that he met Patsy, who worked at a dry goods store. He was carrying a basket of dirty clothes and she offered to do his laundry. They would later marry and return to the U.S., and she has since obtained her U.S. citizenship and received an associate’s degree from Weatherford College while continuing to pursue her education.
His return to Jamaica with the Peace Corps is uncertain at this time. Adams has applied to go and hopes the organization will agree to send him back.
Adams is not a native of Mineral Wells, but except for his two Peace Corps tours and some years teaching he has lived or worked in Mineral Wells his entire life. An Army baby, Adams was born to George and Ruth Adams at Fort Bliss and moved here in 1941 when just 8 months old.
“We came to Mineral Wells in a Model A Ford with chickens tied to the running boards – a real Grapes of Wrath kind of thing,” he said.
Adams has a brother, George, who now lives in Palestine, Texas.
His dad was a master sergeant and was assigned to what was then known as Camp Wolters.
Adams said in those days people – much like an Amish barn raising – would get together and build homes for each other, getting one built in a just a few days. He said that was the kind of home they first lived in on what was then Welcome Mountain, known today as East Mountain north of the Baker Hotel and First United Methodist Church.
He attended Cullen Grimes Elementary School, where in the second grade he won a literary contest with an essay entitled “Proud to be an American” that was published in a state teachers’ magazine.
He became an avid outdoorsman at an early age and immersed himself in scouting as a youth. He said he went through the Cub Scout program in just 10 months. By age 12 he was in the Order of the Arrow and achieved his Boy Scout Eagle designation, almost unheard of at that age. He was the first Palo Pinto County chapter chief of the Order of the Arrow and lays claim to being one of just three from the county to receive the Explorer Scout organization’s Silver Award.
Adams recalls when he was named Camp Wolters Commander for a Day as well as Mineral Wells mayor for a day. He also served as president of the Boys of the Woodcraft, which was then the youth affiliate of Woodmen of the World.
This year marked Adams’ 50th anniversary of his graduation from Mineral Wells High School, where he played football and ran track. He went on to attend Arlington State College (now the University of Texas at Arlington) two years and then North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas), obtaining a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education degree and then in 1965 a master’s degree also in Elementary Education.
He began his teaching career in White Settlement, followed by teaching stints in Port Arthur and Dallas. The 1960s were coming to a close and the war in Vietnam was raging. Coming from a family with strong military background, Adams felt a sense of duty to enlist and serve.
He didn’t have to, since as a teacher he had a deferment.
“I was raised in the military and I thought it was something I should do,” said Adams.
So he enlisted with the Air Force. But his plans were soon grounded when it was discovered he was “basically allergic to everything.” He would receive an honorary discharge.
He returned to the area and became a teacher, principal and superintendent for the Progress school its last three years in operation. It was there he met his first wife, Judy, also a teacher at the Progress school. She had trained before for the Peace Corps and exposed Adams to the organization. They both signed up and went to Jamaica in 1970.
“It was fun,” said Adams. “I enjoyed it. My oldest daughter, Sierra, was born there and my second daughter, Stacy, was conceived there and born in Mineral Wells.”
Adams served in schools in Jamaica on his first tour.
“There were five schools and each had 1,000 students,” he said. “Most of my teaching was to 17, 18 and 19 year olds. All you had to do was pass two high school subjects to be a teacher.”
Adams said he wasn’t doing all the teaching in Jamaica. He said he also learned a few things.
“I learned how to play cricket and soccer,” he said.
Upon their return, Adams began a 21-year career in the Mineral Wells ISD, teaching Science and Math at the former Austin Junior High School, the former Lee Junior High School and Travis Elementary. Adams said he designed and implemented the district’s first In-School Suspension program to deal with students with behavioral problems.
He retired from MWISD in 1995 and took on several jobs, including working two summers for the Youth Conservation Corps in the Big Horn National Forest. He also worked as the aquatics director for Worth Ranch and as director of Mineral Wells’ citywide recreation program.
He decided in 2001 to return to Jamaica where his second tour was spent teaching health and high school dropouts. Though his tours were 30 years apart, he stayed with same host family the second time there and in the same house. The local newspaper featured his return.
Since his return to Mineral Wells, Adams has spent the last five years teaching general educational development classes to female inmates at Corrections Corporation of America’s Bridgeport facility. He thinks most of the women he helps obtain their high school diploma equivalency appreciate his efforts. He said some will leave before completing the course, but contact him later to let him know they have received their GED.
“I can reach most of them,” he said. “I have a lot of friendships with my students just by talking to them, asking them questions. Sometimes I get on my soapbox. One of the things I tell them is when they leave I don’t want to see them again.”
He said it’s not always easy, even with those who want to obtain their GED.
“If they had any drive, they would have gotten (their diploma) when they were 17 or 18,” he said. “A lot of them operate on a second,- third- or fourth-grade level. It’s just an individual thing. They are on all sorts of different levels and from different backgrounds. The main thing is to let them know you care.”
Of all his accomplishments, the most amazing might be his near-death encounter with Mother Nature in 1984. Adams – who says he has hunted and killed some 70 deer in his lifetime – was bow hunting in a tree along the Brazos River several miles north of the U.S. Highway 180 bridge when a bolt of lightning hit the tree, entering Adams in his shoulders and exiting his right ankle.
Adams suffered multiple burns, some third-degree with blisters. He was hunting with a friend, Jesse Parham, when he was hit. He was knocked to the ground unconscious.
“I don’t know how long I was out,” he said. “The worst part is I had to walk back to the car.”