Trip planner extraordinaire

here was never a family vacation, yet today Russell Schofner is quite accomplished in planning trips to anywhere your heart desires.

This is the rural Shelby County resident’s 22nd year of planning monthly trips “open to the whole world” and sponsored by the St. Joe Social Club.

“We’ve been so many places, I can’t even remember them all,” he said. “I wish I would have kept a diary of where all we’ve gone.”

Schofner recited a few of the trips: six trips to Washington D.C.; six trips to New York City, one of which was taken “the year after the Twin Towers went down”; Alaska, all around Canada; Hawaii; all over the United States including Las Vegas, Nev., Mackinac, Mich., Branson Mo., and West Virginia.

“We never had a vacation growing up,” said Schofner’s daughter, Karen Wolter. Now look at all of the places her dad has gone. In 1982, she and her late husband Gary planned a trip for her parents (Russell and the late Mary Dell Schofner) to attend the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn.

“That’s when you started travelling,” she said to her Dad.

Later this month, as Schofner looks forward to celebrating his 85th birthday, he wonders if it’s time for someone else to plan the popular day trips and overnight trips. “It’s time to settle down,” he said, suggesting that his daughter Karen Wolter and a couple of other club members might take on the planning next year.

“It takes a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of phone calls,” he said, much of which he may have created. Before Schofner stepped into the tour position, trips were planned strictly for club members, he said. “I took it to a club vote to have bigger trips. Since then the trips have been open to the world,” said Schofner. “You do not have to be a club member to go.”

Club membership at $10 a year, however, has its perks. Club members are the first to learn about the trips during the monthly club luncheon meetings and to reserve spots because outside advertising is not done.

“It’s all just by word of mouth,” said Schofner. “If they have a nice time, they tell others who may come on a trip and they then tell others. If you foul up they’re going to tell everyone, too, so you don’t want to do that.”

Schofner works hand-in-hand with various travel agencies to get the best deal for travelers, he said, and does the same with coach companies to allow for comfortable travel. Contracts are negotiated and signed.

“We’ve been very fortunate. When I take them on a trip, they always get good meals, too,” he said. “I set up the meal place ahead of time.

After pausing briefly, Schofner talked a about memorable trips.

“The last year Senator (Richard) Lugar was in office, I believe that was six years ago, I contacted Lugar’s office when planning the Washington (D.C.) trip,” he said, hoping to schedule tours through some of the governmental buildings. When speaking to the lady who answered the telephone, Schofner said he shared a memory with her from his childhood when he would go to the stockyards in Indianapolis with his grandfather, who was friends with “Grandpa Lugar.”

He reminisced about hog alley with “Grandpa Lugar.”

“She called back and asked for me to call her within two weeks with the number of people coming. She told me where we would meet the guide,” he said. “When we got there, a lady with a red flag in front of Lugar’s office (it was either the Capitol or Senate) had us park right by the office in a spot that was restricted to no parking. We had permission to park the coaches there all day. We had a police escort to cross the street!”

Once inside, Lugar came out, introduced himself and asked that they all gather into groups of 10, according to Schofner. Each group had its own guide. “Trent Locke (Republican Senator at the time) came down on the Senate-only elevator, and took 30 people with him upstairs on that elevator! We spent all day going in and out of buildings.”

Then, there was the trip to a doll factory.

“That was real interesting,” he said. “They had nurses take care of (the dolls) in a nursery. That was in Parkersburg, West Virginia (Reborn Dolls). You could adopt a doll and name it. You wouldn’t think there would be much to (a doll factory). It was a real interesting deal.”