Mike Wood '64, even in retirement, is a man on the move. After a successful career in a senior management position at Prime Health, Kansas City's first prepaid health plan and later as an innovative educator at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Wood remains active in his true passion - community service. His involvement in several Kansas City-based organizations and his role in educating legions of Kansas City youth served as the impetus for his selection as the 2006 Kansas City World Citizen of the Year. He is to be honored at the Mayor's United Nations Day dinner on October 24, sponsored by the Kansas City chapter of the United Nations Association of the United States.
"I am very, very flattered by this award," said Wood. "This banquet has been going on for the past 35 or so years and the award was established to recognize someone who serves as a bridge between Kansas City and the world. In looking over the list of past recipients, it is very humbling."
Wood, who has traveled to nearly100 countries for both work and leisure, has used his passion for world cultures to bring to Kansas City knowledge of the customs and concerns of other countries. During Wood's continuous service on the board of directors of the International Relations Council since 1974, including two terms as President, and involvement in other KC-area groups such as People to People, International, Sister Cities of Kansas City, Alliance Francaise, and the United Nations Association, he has enlightened countless people, young and old.
"The psychic rewards of what I am able to do are wonderful. I love to travel and experience foreign foods and cultures, so it is extremely enjoyable to get young people to share my addiction."
Wood quickly recalls several poignant travel experiences that have shaped his understanding, including a visit to Malaysia last year, where he once lived and taught. While there, he and his wife broke the Ramadan fast with an economics professor, Ataul Huq, who had recently published a book on the concept of "development" in a book, Human Development with Dignity.
"His argument was that the term 'development' should be subject to re-examination," said Wood. ""He challenges the notion of a country being developed that has deteriorating families, crime in the streets and an unmitigated devotion to materialism. He was such a peaceful, thoughtful man, thoroughly committed to the economic progress of less 'developed' countries; we had a wonderful time visiting and exchanging ideas."
Experiences such as this have not only shaped Wood's life, but also impacted his work back at home. And in many ways, his roots as a social activist can be traced to his years at Bowdoin.
"I always had a foundation and interest in the world and I was able to pursue that with greater rigor at Bowdoin," said Wood. "The idea of service and giving of one's time is inherent in all students and becomes a legacy at the College."
While at Bowdoin, Wood studied foreign languages and maximized his exposure to a very euro-centric curriculum. Following graduation in 1964, he joined the Peace Corps and spent eight years working abroad. In addition to his work in Malaysia, Wood also served as associate director of the Corps in the Philipines and as the country director for the Ivory Coast.
"It is intrinsically good to be aware of your surroundings, but also to have an awareness of differences with other people and their surroundings," said Wood. "If young people are educated and understand a bit about other cultures, they can avoid unwarranted chauvinism and develop a level of tolerance."
Living in the Midwest, Wood maintains a sense of pride in being connected with Bowdoin and attributes much of his success in life to what he learned as a student.
"The biggest thing Bowdoin did was teach me the importance of preparation," said Wood. "It is a lesson that served me well during my professional career and continues to serve me well today. As I work for universal health care, for instance, I think back to my time at Bowdoin and the lessons I learned about pushing for what you believe is right and reasonable."
His goals now, just as they were forty years ago, are to encourage others to become aware of the larger world and celebrate its diversity.
"I remember being exposed to the Offer of the College as a student, and how it talked about being at home in all lands and carrying the keys to the world's library in your pocket," said Wood. "My own personal feeling is that Bowdoin fulfilled its end of the bargain beyond my wildest dreams."