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A Salute to Starr Family Veterans

Every Veteran’s Day I am reminded of my time in service in the US Army. Most of my friends don’t even know that I served, and some are even shocked when they see a picture of me in my BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform) in full camouflage makeup, holding an M-16 rifle! Going into the military was no surprise to my family though… my father started off his military career in the Marine Corps but only lasted a couple days, then he went into the Navy and was sent to Vietnam in 1968-69 working in radio communications (he met and married my mom over there – she was a translator and also the desk clerk at their quarters!).  After Vietnam he trained to become an engineer aboard aircraft carriers and would go out to sea for several months. In 1981 he used the GI Bill to go to school for nursing and branch-transferred into the Army Nurse Corps, then retired in 1992. Since I grew up as a “military brat”, we moved frequently throughout the United States due to my dad’s assignments and training courses – I lived in 10 different places by the time I was thirteen! My dad’s father was a retired Army Quartermaster Officer who served in WWII and the Korean War, my brother was in the Marine Corps Reserves, my husband (whom I met in Army ROTC at Penn State) was an Army Field Artillery Officer, and his father graduated from West Point in 1965 and was sent to fight in the Vietnam War along with many of his classmates.

As you can see, I had a fairly strong military presence in my life, which influenced my decision to serve. I was awarded an ROTC scholarship, so I took 4 years of Army ROTC classes at Penn State, where I learned about military history and tactics, how to march and how to be a soldier, and most importantly I gained leadership skills. At graduation I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps, and I had the honor of having my dad swear me in! I was then sent to the Army Medical Department’s Officer Basic Course in Ft Sam Houston, TX and then served 5 years on active duty, assigned to the hospitals at Ft. Meade, MD and Ft. Lewis, WA. Even after my military career ended, I continued working at Madigan Army Medical Center as a civilian for a couple more years. Although it seems like a lifetime ago when I got out of the Army in 1997, I am always proud to say “I Served.”

AUDREY DONAGHY, US Army Nurse Corps, Captain 1992-1997
Starr Tour Coordinator 

 

Last year at Veteran’s Day, I casually mentioned to a fellow co-worker that I was in the Army. She thanked me for my service and we wondered if there were other Starr employees who were veterans. Thus the idea to write this blog recognizing Starr employees and their family members who are military veterans came about…

THANK YOU to all those who have served in the past and the present- we are all grateful for your service!

 

Please join me in saluting these other veterans of the Starr Family:

 

I was stationed at Ft Knox, KY and Ft Gordon, GA. I was a Stevedore, but never saw a ship! One of the jobs I had was to shovel coal to heat the barracks. In training I received the High Marksman award.

ALAN GLICKMAN, US Army, Reserves, 1965-1971
Owner of Starr

 


 

I joined to serve my country and to pay for my education.  I was very fortunate to have served 20 years without seeing combat.  My highlights were being able to travel and live in some amazing places.  I spent 6 years in Germany, and one year in Korea. I also served in Oklahoma, California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.  It was a very challenging and fulfilling career.

An Interesting Fact: Rick was Audrey’s husband’s Army ROTC instructor at the Penn State Ogontz/Abington branch campus from 1988-1990!

 

RICK WEISS, US Army Field Artillery, Major (Retired) 1972-1992
Tour Director at Starr

 


 

The tears streaming down my face as I humbly try to pay tribute to my hero are no match to the physical and emotional pain my dad, John W. Pazdan, suffered as a witness to the horrors of WWII.  Enlisted in the US Army when he was just 18 years old, he was assigned to the European Theater in 1943.  As a member of the 53/54 Replacement Battalion he served as a crew member of a Sherman M4-A1 medium tank and engaged in battle in Belgium at the Battle of the Bulge.  During this conflict, his tank was struck and completely destroyed.  He was ejected from the tank and lay unconscious for 24 hours in sub-freezing weather.  The entire tank crew was killed.  After his rescue, he finished out his term of service for ten months in a hospital bed at Rhoads General Hospital in Utica, New York.

Like so many of the servicemen and women of “The Greatest Generation,” he never shared any of these details with our family.  I can only surmise that his courage and bravery to protect his country when he was a young man extended to protect his four children from knowing the atrocities of war.

As part of my welcome introduction on our Starr tours, I always include a salute to the servicemen and women and by doing so, it’s my way of saying, “Thanks dad, my hero.”

 

CHRISTINE DURLING
Starr Tour Director

 


 

I joined the Reserves during the Vietnam era. Did not leave the US however; was in Louisiana and Texas. Most impacting memory was working as a Medic in the Valley Forge Hospital in PA where all the Amputee Soldiers returned for medical treatments.

JAMES AGASAR, US Army, Reserves, 1967-1973
Starr Driver 

 


 

I come from a family with a lot of military veterans. Several uncles and great uncles in the Navy and Army and one in the Air Force. Unfortunately, most of them have passed and I don’t know their stories, but I still have the letters that my grandfather and father sent back home to my grandmother while they served in the Army and Navy, respectively, mostly reassuring her not to worry about them. My grandmother worried about everyone, all the time, and never gave up on that intense love.

My father was stationed on a naval ship in Norfolk, Virginia at the time of the Vietnam War, but he was never sent anywhere else aside from a brief stint in Panama.  My mother grew up in Norfolk and had several friends in the Navy – she met my father through one of their mutual friends while he was stationed there. He was medically discharged because of a serious illness before he served his full 4 years and returned home to North Jersey. The illness almost killed him, but my grandmother nursed him back to health with beef blood juice and a few other concoctions. My mother drove up almost every weekend, from Virginia, by herself, to visit him. My grandmother thought she was crazy, that no woman should be driving that distance alone to see a man, but my mother quickly grew on her and became the daughter she always wanted.

His father served in the Army during World War II and was stationed in several places throughout Europe. Most of the letters he wrote back home to my grandmother, his fiancé at the time, were to tell her not to worry about him; alerting her when he was going to be on the move and unable to write and reassuring her of his love, and… sometimes gently scolding her for getting upset anyway after not hearing from him. I wish I had the letters she wrote. While he was stationed overseas, his mother and family kept a close watch on her – escorting her everywhere and making sure she wasn’t left alone too much. They cared about her, but she said mostly they were afraid that she would change her mind before my grandfather got back and find someone else. They were married over 60 years before my grandfather passed in 2008. In addition to those precious letters, I still have some of the items he brought back from WWII including a dress sword, some coins, and several medals he earned. He never talked about his experience.

I’m honored to have had so many brave men in my family.

SHANA D’ATTILIO
Marketing Associate at Starr


 

Did you know? Starr offers a 5% discount on all motorcoach trips, all year long to any and all US Veterans!

Starr values our veterans, and would like to formally salute anyone who has risked their lives for our country.

Throwback to the Days of Great Adventure

Great Adventure’s Safari Tours are a common snapshot in the family vacation albums of many families in the tri-state area. From 1974 – 2012, visitors to the safari park had the freedom to drive their family vehicles through the wilds and have up close and personal (at times very personal) experiences with the animals. Chances are you or someone you know has a story about the time the giraffe stuck its head through their sunroof, or the time the chimps climbed up on top of the car and stole their windshield wiper. These stories are a part of Starr’s history, too!

The motorcoach in the picture is parked in the hospitality area of Great Adventure. It’s #116, one of 6 sister coaches purchased in 1988 – with a 49 passenger capacity and onboard lavatory.

Starr ran a regular daily shuttle through Great Adventure’s safari for at least 5 years, providing up to 15 buses per day. Starr owner, Alan Glickman, dispatched the buses on the weekend when the demand was the greatest and even drove the route through the park from time to time! He often joked that the buses were going to the “Monkey Farm.”

The shuttle service began as a solution to the problem some Great Adventure customers encountered when the chimps in the safari started tearing up and eating the vinyl roofs and other parts from personal cars that drove through the park. For a small fee, customers who did not want to take the “Baboon Bypass” to spare their own fragile cars, could ride on safari shuttle buses through the park and avoid possible damage to their vehicles. We typically sent our older buses to run the Great Adventure Safari Shuttle because of the threat of damage by the animals and the off-road route they had to travel through the safari. The monkeys often tore off the bus’ wipers and ate the marker lights so we had to replace the plastic lenses with glass ones in order to stop the damage. Alan says there was other monkey business that occurred, too, but it’s “too dirty” to talk about in this post. On personal vehicles, over 100 vinyl tops were torn off daily and Alan recounts watching cars finish the safari trip with only bare grey metal left on the cars’ roofs.

Thunderstorms were another challenge as the safari tours ran rain or shine and the storms would often get the animals excited. Alan recounts that there were several lion and tiger attacks on the bus’ front tires and adds that breakdowns in the middle of the safari were an “adventure” for mechanics and drivers! Alan’s wife, Renee, recalls many a summer weekend when he would be away from home tending to his dispatch duties at the park.

When Great Adventure, now Six Flags Great Adventure, ceased allowing personal cars to ride through the safari in September of 2012, the decision was met with nostalgic regret and hopeful relief. It was the end of an era for many who fondly recalled the “great adventure” of driving through the park and making memories with their family and the animals. While for others, it was a shift in the right direction for the welfare of the animals.

Today, Six Flags still operates a safari park with the Safari Off-Road Adventure included in the price of general admission and visitors get to ride in rugged off-road vehicles specially designed for splashing through ponds, climbing hills, and over rugged terrain as they traverse the 350-acre preserve.

What’s your favorite memory of Great Adventure’s Safari? Share it in the comments section!

Reflecting Back – Moving Forward

As the height of the touring season was about to begin I started reflecting back on the bus tours I escorted last year.  Each tour is unique, even if I’ve traveled there before, partly due to changes in the landscape, different local guides, new venues to see and familiar ones to explore more deeply.  But my favorite part of directing tours is the people I come to know as we travel together – for they help to create my wonderful memories of these trips.

 

A few who come to mind are the 12 friends and a few family members who traveled on the Agawa Canyon, Ontario bus tour with us.  I affectionately named them the “dirty dozen” (their photo is below).  These 12 people were warm and friendly to everyone and included others in their conversations and adventures whether on the train or during the evening activities.

On the same trip were two brothers and their wives who were the “readers” of the trip.  They all were reading different genres of books and provided us with enough book titles to last for months.

 

During several of the trips I met fellow knitters. On one trip, a guest was kind enough to edit and write directions for a sweater to make it fit better.  We laughed and talked about knitting shops along the trip.  Just another guest helping another traveler and building memories of a fun-filled vacation.

 

So many guests last season were celebrating anniversaries and birthdays.  One couple wore color-coordinated clothing every day to celebrate their anniversary and the entire coach waited to see how they were matched each morning.  Everyone enjoyed watching their celebration.

 

Then there was the creative guest who turned my name into an acronym as a thank you for a fun-filled and exciting trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On that trip we were on a Shrimp boat (who knew there were so many different kinds of shrimp) and took great photos.

 

As I move through this tour season I realize that each trip, whether a new or a familiar one, will be interesting, exciting and fun-filled. They are always planned with fascinating sites to see, shops, buildings and monuments to explore plus beautiful scenery, but most importantly the coach will be filled with great tour guests who help create our wonderful memories.

 

I look forward to making memories with you one day,

Anndee Byers
Starr Tour Director

 

 

This year, travel with me to the Gaylord National Resort in August, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast or Pittsburgh in September, Savannah & Charleston in October, or Busch Gardens in December. I’m also directing a variety of day trips! Click here to find out more.

BFFs and Bus Travel

To tell how I came to work at Starr, I have to go back to July 1981 and the beginning of my 36 year friendship with fellow Starr Tour Director, Jane Peters Estes. Jane and I met at Hightstown High School (as employees, not students!). We both were new employees in the principal’s office so we spent that first summer getting to know each other as well as the school.

I had never worked in a school before and came in from private industry with a business background. Jane, on the other hand, had spent years in the elementary school system so she had a more colorful background. While my time had been spent dressing up for business, Jane’s time had been spent in costumes ranging from Santa’s helper to the Valentine Princess. All that changed my first year, and every year after that, as I traded in my business clothes and we collaborated for every holiday to add fun to our office. One Halloween we created bars on the windows between the office and the hallway and dressed in prison stripes. Another year, we painted flames on the windows and dressed up as little devils. During the winter, our decor included a working fireplace with a mantle with ice skates and skis next to it and winter scenes on posters on the walls. Snowflakes hung from the ceiling. Our first Valentine’s Day was an explosion of hearts all over the office walls and hanging from the ceiling.

We worked together for 6 years until Jane took another position in the school district, but we remained close friends. She is the Abbott to my Costello, the George Burns to my Gracie Allen, the… well, you get the idea. She’s taught me and opened my eyes to a lot over the years.

Jane began as a Starr Tour Director in 1992 and she took to escorting bus trips quite naturally. While I thought it sounded like a cool job, I had other things going on in my life and didn’t give it a second thought. A few years later, Jane asked if I’d like to go on a Starr day trip with her to Gettysburg. We always had a good time together so I decided, why not? It was a fun trip with a small problem to solve and happy passengers to interact with. I watched how she handled everything and started to think that I’d like to do it, too. My kids were grown and I had more time on my hands…

I finally got an opportunity to join Starr’s team of Tour Directors in September of 2004. Jane contacted me to say that Starr was hiring and asked if I was interested. I said yes without a second thought. At the time it worked well with my schedule and when I retired a few years later it worked even better. I trained under Eileen Markey, a delightful lady, and of course Jane helped me a lot too. She still does!

Since then, I have had the opportunity to train a few new Tour Directors myself, including Gene Gray, and have built many more friendships along the way. All of the Starr Tour Directors and Drivers have been wonderful to know and work with and the passengers have been pretty great, too! Starting your day before the sun has come up isn’t always easy, but the rest of the day is always uphill from there. It’s been fun learning about new places and expanding my stand up comedy routine. The only time I’ve taken my comedy on the road has been in a Starr coach, and although I have a captive audience, I realize that the driver really has the last word. I just keep an eye out to make sure he hasn’t opened the door and gotten the hook out… that’s a joke!! I’ve enjoyed meeting new people all the time and by the end of the trips I’ve gotten hugs and even applause on occasion, which I humbly accept!

In my first years at Starr I got to do a few Maine bus trips as well as a bus trip to Savannah and Charleston. They were both especially enjoyable because of the scenery as well as the people I met. As a Tour Director for Starr, I get to travel at a discount (it’s a perk!). So I traveled to Canyon Country as a tour guest last year. It was a wonderful trip and I got to know our passengers – as one of them! But out of all of the trips I’ve taken with Starr, Long Island remains my favorite – as I mentioned in my previous blog post! It’s not a long drive, and it’s a walk down memory lane for me, having grown up on the island. I guess there really is no place like home!

I have loved working as a Tour Director at Starr for the past 13 years (even when I have to get up at 4AM for a trip!) and hope to continue working and traveling for many more years to come. And I think I’m very lucky to be able to continue to share experiences with my BFF.

Hope to see you on a tour soon,
Bette Barr
Starr Tour Director

 

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

Savannah & Charleston… A Must Do Trip!

One of the first multi-day trips by bus I escorted as a Tour Director for Starr, about 12 years ago, was to Savannah and Charleston.  I had never been to either city before but had heard so much about both southern destinations. I was excited to go and, of course, so were my passengers.  Savannah was a place that I’d heard about way back when I first became a Brownie Girl Scout in 19__??  Well, you can guess that one. 

I wanted to see the Juliette Gordon Low house where the first Girl Scout meeting was held and where Forrest Gump sat with his box of chocolates. I also wanted to see the Mercer House where the story behind “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” happened and was filmed.  So much to see in such a small town.

We saw all that and more.  In Charleston, I discovered why the city was named “the friendliest city in America” – everyone smiled and said hello! I wanted to return, but I didn’t get that opportunity again until last year. I would finally get to see those two cities again, and it would be even better.

Marine Recruits training at Parris Island – the men and women train separately

The trip now includes a stop in Beaufort, SC, a lovely small, southern town with a big mission…it’s home to Parris Island, the Marine Corps Boot Camp. I was excited to see where my Marine friends and family spent 13 wonderful weeks of their young lives (well, it might not have been so wonderful at the time!). We enjoyed a complete tour of Parris Island including a stop at the museum and gift shop.  From there we went to Savannah, for two nights in a lovely hotel right in the historic downtown.

When I awoke on my first day in Savannah and turned on the weather channel (a habit all Tour Directors have), the weatherman was being pelted with rain and wind from Tropical Storm Julia, which he said had developed overnight and was now hitting Savannah.  Huh??  I immediately ran to the window, pulled back the curtains and looked outside.  It was cloudy, but there was no wind or rain.  I wondered if was he on some sound stage at the Weather Channel and someone was throwing buckets of water at him while a big fan blew stuff around? T’was a puzzlement. So we proceeded to our morning trolley tour, which would go on rain or shine. Sure enough, they picked us up, on time, at the front door of the hotel and we rode around Savannah, hearing wonderful stories about that lovely city. There was some rain, but nothing out of the ordinary.

We made a stop at the Massie Heritage Center, a pre-Civil War building that was originally a school for Savannah’s poor children.  It is now a museum and has an outstanding exhibition documenting the Greek, Gothic, and Roman influence on Savannah’s architectural history. In addition, an educational program called “The Nineteenth Century Classroom,” allows youngsters and adults to experience a 19th century school day. It was so much fun!

When our tour ended at noon on River Street, I found out what that weatherman was talking about! The rain suddenly came down, the wind came up, and I was instantly soaked (even with my rain poncho)! So were my passengers, but they smiled and we decided it was time to go inside for lunch. Good timing! With so many restaurants to choose from, everyone found what they wanted and sat out the worst of the bad weather. Afterwards, with all of the various and wonderful shops so close together, it was easy to get in and out of the rain and buy lots of good stuff from local merchants! 

A Trolley Tour driving past the Owens-Thomas House

Our tickets for the trolley allowed us to get on and off for the rest of the day, which was so convenient in the rain. So with umbrellas and raincoats and unlimited transportation, the passengers thoroughly enjoyed everything Savannah had to offer…even in the bad weather!

That evening we saw a delightful Broadway-style show at the Savannah Theatre. The next day we hopped aboard our bus and headed north to Charleston, where we met our local guide who showed us all around the city she loved, including the Citadel, which both her husband and son had attended.

With time on our own in the afternoon, we walked through the Charleston City Market filled with so many wonderful shops. Our biggest decisions were what to buy!  Again, so many friendly people and smiling faces and delightful weather as a bonus, in spite of the weatherman’s report that Tropical Storm Julia was going to Charleston with us.  Other than a brief sprinkle, I don’t know where Julia was, or that weatherman for that matter!

Spirit of Carolina Dinner Cruise

A dinner cruise along the Cooper River capped off a relaxing evening. The next morning we set off for our final stop at Magnolia Plantation, a 17th century estate.  It felt like we had stepped back in time. The nature train tour took us around the beautiful gardens,  ancient magnolia trees covered with Spanish moss and past a number of ponds where alligators were resting in the sun!! WHAT??? ALLIGATORS??? Only a few feet from where we passed?  Our guide assured us that they were not hungry… Well, he thought that they weren’t hungry so, we were safe… I think!

As we made our way home on our comfortable Starr bus, we talked about all the wonderful things we had seen and the friendly people along the way.  It was truly a delightful trip that I was so happy to have been able to take again and hope for more visits in the years to come. Now that I have shared one of my favorite memories, what are your favorite memories of the south?

Happy travels,
Bette Barr, Starr Tour Director

 

 

Photo Credits: Giant Oak by Nagel Photography, Marine Recruits by Bette Barr, Savannah Trolley Courtesy of Savannah Chamber of Commerce, Dinner Cruise Courtesy of Spiritline Cruises