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On Island Profile: Joe Kessler

Jan. 2, 2006 – After decades globetrotting with CARE and the Peace Corps, Friends of V.I. National Park President Joe Kessler and his wife, Cristina, have settled on St. John.
"As long as we continue to have fun," he said.
When he's not at his desk at the Friend's office in Mongoose Junction, Kessler and his wife head to the beach, go scuba diving, take hikes or go out on their boat.
"We're taking advantage of what makes St. John special," he said.
Kessler, 55, took over the Friends top spot from longtime friend John Garrison in 2003. Kessler had served a Peace Corps stint in Kenya with Garrison's wife, Ginger. The Garrisons were on a river trip with the Kesslers in Timbuktu, Mali, where he served as CARE's country director, when John Garrison told him he was moving on and that the job was open.
"I had said whenever you're ready to give it up, let me know," he said, adding that he had been joking.
Kessler said he applied and got the job.
"I think the board liked my multicultural experience," he said.
Trained as a civil engineer at North Carolina State University, the Rockaway, N.Y., native joined the Peace Corps soon after graduation. He and his wife met while they were in language training in Puerto Rico.
"One weekend we split to St. John. Our romance began at Cinnamon Bay," he said.
He went on to Peru and his wife went to Honduras, but the Peace Corps soon transferred him to Honduras.
Both wanted to go to Africa, so after extensive negotiations with Peace Corps officials they were posted to Kenya and the Seychelles. By the end of their three years there, they had saved up $15,000 — enough for a lengthy adventure that included travel to Sudan, Egypt, Greece, and Europe.
With friends in the Grenadines, the two headed to the Caribbean for a yacht crewing job that eventually ended on St. Thomas. From there, they went on to South America. With only $35 in their pockets, Kessler said it was time to look for jobs.
In 1981 the job as a CARE civil engineer in Sierra Leone came through, and the two returned to Africa. From there he went on to serve in various management jobs in Indonesia, Honduras, Mexico and Niger before he and his wife took another seven months off to travel in Polynesia. After returning to CARE, he went on to Sudan, Ethiopia and finally, Mali.
Kessler said there are many challenges involved in his current job.
"Our biggest job is fundraising," he said.
And then there's the matter of improving the Friend's image. Kessler said that numerous people base their opinions about the Friends and the park on wrong information. He said that word continues to circulate that the park is keeping people from accessing their land that is surrounded by park property.
Kessler said that efforts to find out just who those people are have turned up no one with any wish to get to their land.
The push to open another road from Coral Bay to provide access is another issue often on Kessler's plate. He said to open up a road through park land on the south shore is cost prohibitive and poses an environmental threat. He estimated it would cost about $30 million to $40 million to accomplish this project.
Kessler said to turn the Johnny Horn Trail into a road would also involve digging up virgin land rich in cultural artifacts. That road would come out at Annaberg, which wouldn't be much help in improving access.
He said fixing the section of Bordeaux Road in disrepair or improving the unpaved section of Kingshill Road that runs from Centerline Road to Coral Bay are the best options.
"It could be done relatively easily," he said.

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