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Midamar Founder Recognised as First Muslim Join the Peace Corps

June 23, 2011
Bill Aossey, First Muslim in Peace Corps

The Peace Corps celebrates its 50th anniversary, and while many Cornell College graduates have served, one stands out: Bill Aossey ’63. Aossey was recognized as the first Muslim to serve in the Peace Corps. He was posted to Senegal, a predominantly Muslim nation, after his graduation.

While there, he coached what would become the country’s Olympic wrestling team, and worked in water well and rural agricultural development. He and fellow coach Mel Zweygardt were mentioned in an August1965 Peace Corps newsletter, not only for helping to start a Greco-Roman wrestling team in Senegal, but also for their mastery of its traditional dance. From the newsletter:

"Senegalese acceptance of the volunteers has been warn and cordial. In many rural areas they are the first Americans to appear. Response to toubabs (foreigners) like Mel Zweygardt (St. Francis, Kan.) and Bill Aossey (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), both of whom became proficient in Senegalese traditional dancing, has become almost legendary. Zweygardt and Aossey came to Senegal to develop Greco-Roman-style wrestling for Olympic competition. Wrestling has always been a national sport in Senegal, although the local version is a traditional brand of unbalancing act."

After completing his time in the Peace Corps, Aossey and another Peace Corps volunteer traveled

around Africa, across the Middle East, through Central Asia, to the Far East, covering more than 80 countries. Upon his return to Iowa, Aossey began graduate studies in agricultural development, but interrupted his studies to accept a Fulbright grant to conduct an agricultural study in South Vietnam. His studies were again interrupted by the opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia on a technical teaching program from 1967-1970.

After nearly seven years overseas, Aossey was impressed by the lack of agricultural development and the lack of protein and widespread malnutrition suffered by millions of people in a common global belt. In an effort to transfer agriculture, technology and food development from Iowa to countries and regions in need, he pioneered the halal food industry in North America by founding Midamar Corporation, a halal food and export supply chain management company serving the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Far East.

In 2003, he was interviewed by The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette about his experience and the role of Peace Corps volunteers as ambassadors both for the U.S. abroad and for the countries they served in when they return home.

“It’s important to tell what America stands for,” Aossey told The Gazette. “After Sept. 11, the Peace Corps’ perception is we should bring some of this culture and understanding back home.”

Aossey is a former Cornell College trustee. His son, Jalel Aossey ’97, is a director at Midamar.


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