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Read About Our Road Scholar Heroes

One Couple Gives Back to a Community They Hold Dear: Jerry and Gretchen Davis share their love for learning in France

From the Australian outback to Peru’s ancient civilizations, Jerry and Gretchen Davis are by no means Road Scholar newbies. In fact, they have over 80 learning adventures under their belts — and they’re not slowing down anytime soon.

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“Road Scholar has been a part of our lives ever since my parents went on their first program at Franklin Pierce College, decades ago,” explains Jerry. “Now we’ve attended about 85 Road Scholar learning adventures over the last 23 years, and we have two more planned for next year, the Palm Springs International Film Festival and a voyage to the Black Sea on Road Scholar’s new floating campus!”

Learning has always been an important part of Jerry and Gretchen’s lives, having both met at Bates College and Gretchen working as an elementary school teacher. And although one of their favorite aspects of Road Scholar is the ability to learn about almost anything anywhere, they believe what makes the adventure truly spectacular is not about where you learn, but who you learn with.

“The opportunity to meet other people is really important to us,” says Gretchen. “Even if we’re going on a program with friends, we make it a point to meet new friends! Road Scholars come from all different backgrounds, persuasions and locations, and it’s wonderful to hear what their experiences are. That’s a big part of the learning process for us.”

The diversity of their fellow learners is something both Jerry and Gretchen value deeply. After all, the more unique the group is, the greater the chance for enlightening discussions and different points of views. And although not everyone has the means to embark on a learning adventure, they believe that learning shouldn’t be a privilege. For Jerry and Gretchen, it’s important that everyone receives an equal opportunity to expand their horizons, regardless of where they come from or what they can afford.

In 2011, Jerry and Gretchen endowed the Norcross Scholarship Fund so that others could experience the joys of life-changing Road Scholar adventures. The scholarship is a way to honor Jerry’s mother and father, who instilled a passion for lifelong learning, and Jerry knows that his mother would be especially happy that her gift is helping so many others experience the learning adventures she once held dear.

But that wasn’t all. In 2018, the Davis family decided to take their giving one step further. Inspired by Jerry and Gretchen’s own experience of caring for their parents, they chose to establish the DreemKumTru Caregiver Grant Fund, named after a small woods camp that, for over 50 years, has served as a gathering place for family and a chance to recharge.

“Caregivers give great amounts of time, effort and money to watch over the needs of others. They are continually short-changed pursuing their own dreams and interests,” they explained. “We wanted to make it possible for others to immerse themselves in the Road Scholar experience and we hope to make some dreams come true for caregivers.”

For Jerry and Gretchen, being able to give to a not-for-profit organization like Road Scholar is very important. Though they’ve always given to causes they care about, they truly believe that now, more than ever, is a key time to give.

“As we grow older, we believe more and more in the importance of providing financial support to organizations we’re passionate about — something we couldn’t do earlier in our careers. It’s a special opportunity to leave a different type of legacy to the world.”

Through their cherished gifts, Jerry and Gretchen have given many Road Scholar participants something truly invaluable: the opportunity to learn. And with that, the couple has also received a great gift in return.

“We really enjoy learning from our fellow Road Scholars. Providing financial support helps foster the environment in which Road Scholar thrives.”

Let Learning Bloom: How Winnie Bloom Explores & Gives Back With Road Scholar

Dan and Winnie Bloom packed their car and began to drive from their home in Virginia to Savannah, Georgia, where their first Road Scholar program awaited. Dan was slightly trepidatious. As a newly retired Industry Control engineer at GE who had built fish ladders on the Snake River and lift bridges in Massachusetts, he wasn’t sure if a group learning experience was his cup of tea. Winnie, who had once worked for Shell Oil and had been a devoted mom and housewife, was far more optimistic. She looked forward to the idea that everything in their upcoming trip was taken care of — she wouldn’t have to do a thing other than enjoy herself and focus on what she would learn.

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Their adventure proved to be a success. During their program, they explored historic Savannah and ventured further to learn about Georgia’s coastal waterways. They met interesting people who seemed interested in everything. And while they had started their adventure with different expectations, by the end of their experience in Savannah they were in agreement: they loved Road Scholar.

“We decided, ‘This is not so bad!’” laughs Winnie. “Right then, we knew we were ready to plan our next trip with Road Scholar.”

Their second program couldn’t have been further from the warm, historic streets of Savannah. They chose a home-stay program in Switzerland, where their lodging was in the home of a local family, and they joined up with their larger group for evening events. It was a unique experience that further cemented their interest in attending more Road Scholar learning adventures.

“After that, it just kind of snowballed,” says Winnie. “We looked over the catalog and found programs we liked. We attended them and found they were always interesting, well-organized and the people were very nice. They were never just ordinary trips because of all the information we learned while we were on them, and because all the people we were with were so interested in learning.”

The Blooms found themselves exploring the world with Road Scholar. They journeyed to the islands of Japan and to the Highlands of Scotland. They learned about Hemingway in Key West. They celebrated birthdays and were surprised with cakes — Winnie’s while they traveled on board the Trans-Siberian Railway, and Dan’s while they were exploring Costa Rica. Each adventure was as good as the one before.

“People ask me which one was the best,” says Winnie. “I can’t answer that. They were all the best. We had a wonderful time on each one.”

Now, more than 30 years and 58 learning adventures later, Winnie continues to enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and has another one planned this year. She has also chosen to support the organization by creating the Dan and Winnie Scholarship Fund.

“Dan enjoyed our Road Scholar trips immensely, and he really loved learning something new,” says Winnie. “It was actually his idea to give back to Road Scholar. We both wanted other people to be able to enjoy these programs as much as we have over the years. These experiences were important for us.”

Since Dan’s passing in 2013, Winnie has taken Road Scholar programs as a solo traveler, as well as with a fellow Road Scholar, Joan, whom she met at her retirement community.

“We were talking one day and realized that we both enjoyed Road Scholar programs. Joan was also attending as a single traveler, so we figured, why not go together?” says Winnie.

Winnie doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon. She has her next program already planned in Fairhope, Alabama, and is looking forward to what she will learn there.

“We need to embrace the idea that we have to keep learning,” says Winnie. “I hope I learn something new every week, if not every day!”

Kathleen Harland, A Tribute
Making the Holidays Bright With Road Scholar

What’s the best way to celebrate the holidays? For many, it is through time spent with family and friends. But for others, the holidays can be a lonely time of year — unless you are a solo traveler searching for your next educational adventure.

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A solo traveler of epic proportions, Kathleen Harland felt that the holidays were the perfect time for the camaraderie and inspiration of a Road Scholar learning adventure. She loved to join other Road Scholars to admire the legendary artworks of the Sistine Chapel, or explore the historic streets of Verona amidst bustling Christmas markets.

“K,” as she was known by family and friends, first discovered her love for traveling when she began her career in the oil industry in 1940, making a foothold for herself in a competitive, male-dominated field. During her 40-year career with Caltex Petroleum (now Chevron), she climbed the corporate ladder and explored the world on her own.

Her family also spanned the globe, and she travelled extensively to visit relatives in Australia, Canada, France, Northern Ireland and Scotland. While small in stature, K was big in personality and naturally took the reins of organizing large-scale family reunions. Her family knew her as intelligent,
curious, cultured, opinionated, generous and loyal.

A member of the Road Scholar Class of 1995, K discovered Road Scholar learning adventures upon retirement — and was introduced to a new kind of family. As she learned and explored with Road Scholar, she expanded her passion for classical music and opera in Germany, developed a deep appreciation for food and wine in Italy, and a love for animals as she embarked on safaris in Africa.

But among her favorite Road Scholar learning adventures were the many programs that she took over the holidays. What better way to celebrate than by joining others with the same interests and backgrounds for an educational experience? Over a third of all of K’s travels with Road Scholar were over the holiday season. She spent New Year’s in Tuscany, discovered a new world of cuisine and wine in France at Christmas, and treasured the many holiday celebrations she experienced in Italy.

An adventurer until the end, K passed away a few weeks after returning from a trip to Europe at the age of 97. Through her generous bequest K has shared her passion for educational travel allowing others, especially solo travelers like K, the opportunity to discover the world around them with a very special community of lifelong learners.

Joan McFadden

In 1959, American Airlines introduced the world to a nearly space-age concept of modern travel — the jet airliner. Coincidentally, this was also the first year that Road Scholar participant Joan McFadden took to the skies.

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For nearly a year and a half, Joan enjoyed the glamourous lifestyle of a flight attendant, crisscrossing the country as the airline made long-distance travel an everyday possibility. Her career came to an end as she got married — an airline rule that meant she must give up her globetrotting responsibilities — but that certainly didn’t mean an end to adventure for Joan.

Joan’s husband, Bob, worked for the Department of Defense, a career that led them to travel extensively and live in interesting places like Oahu and Germany. They had a family, Joan became a teacher and then a realtor; in her free time she learned how to scuba dive.

Her life of adventure came to a standstill when Bob was diagnosed with ALS. She became a caregiver to her husband of 47 years, and after his passing, wondered how to move on with her life.

“Caregiving is more than most people should have to bear, but you do it,” says Joan. “About six or seven months after Bob’s death, the fog started to lift a bit. But I knew that I had to do something life-changing.”

The something that Joan was searching for appeared in the form of a Road Scholar catalog. Thinking back on her affinity for scuba diving, Joan enrolled in her first program in Palau.

“The program wasn’t focused on scuba diving, but did involve snorkeling. When I called up and spoke with an Advisor and asked about scuba, Road Scholar arranged for me to have time on my own with a scuba instructor in Palau. That was amazing and was what I needed to push me forward,” says Joan, a member of the Road Scholar Class of ’10.

Perhaps it was something in the water — or something about the wonderful participants she met on her first Road Scholar learning adventure — but Joan was hooked. She signed up for her next learning adventure in Australia, where once again she arranged for a day of scuba in the Great Barrier Reef with a few other participants.

“Of course I was young back then,” quips Joan. “I was in my early 70s. But it was transformative.”

Since then, Joan has continued to explore the world with Road Scholar. She has learned from locals about Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, listened to the blues in Memphis, and ridden in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon with her granddaughter, Marissa.

Joan’s gratitude for Road Scholar educational adventures has taken another step — in the form of a charitable gift annuity. A member of the Road Scholar Legacy Society, Joan says, “A charitable gift annuity supports Road Scholar, and it supports me. I don’t know how long I will live, and it’s certainly nice to have steady income. With a charitable gift annuity, you help yourself and the organization, and you have a win-win!”

Road Scholar learning adventures have brought many positive things to Joan’s life. “Healing, for one,” says Joan. “Adventure. Things to look forward to and new people to meet.” Most notably, a new look at love.

“A year and a half ago, I took the Road Scholar World Academy program from England to Singapore. On longer trips you get to know your fellow travelers very well, and I got to know a very nice gentleman who is now a part of my life,” she says. “Thank you, Road Scholar!”

Faith Levitt

It sounds like something from the Mary Tyler Moore Show: An ambitious and attractive woman from the Midwest applies for a newsroom position at WISH-8 in Indianapolis in 1963. The station’s program manager has her in mind for the role of a lifestyle reporter, where she would share with female viewers the latest on hair rollers and the newest line of fondue pots.

But Faith Levitt had other ideas.

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In an article on Faith by Amanda Kingsbury of the Indy Star, the station’s program manager Dave Smith reminisced, “One of our announcers was interviewing her, and she said, ‘I noticed that there are hardly any female news reporters in your building. Now, why is that?’ The guy, well, he was at a loss for words. I said, ‘That’s the girl we need.’”

A graduate of Columbia University, Faith had been a homemaker for 15 years and was still raising her five children when she interviewed for the position. After securing the position, she made sure that her female viewers learned about more than fashion and cutting-edge homemaking technology.

At 6 feet tall and with elaborately coiffed hair that soon became her trademark, Faith began to make a name for herself as the first woman in Indiana to work in a TV news department. She led a series on adoption, focusing on children with special needs. She confronted slumlords and interviewed a leading transgender activist. She asked Ms. USA her opinion on birth control and didn’t shy away from asking vice presidential candidate Spiro Agnew a tough, unrehearsed question.

Faith quickly became a favorite of celebrity guests as she traveled often to the Time Life Building in New York City. Lucille Ball, Harry Belafonte, Joan Rivers, Peter Graves and Paul Newman were among the interviews she managed to land. She played pool with the legendary Minnesota Fats. And, of course, she managed to have a sit down with two celebrities whose on-air stories hit close to home: Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore herself.

After eight years on the air, Faith left WISH8 in 1971. With her husband Dr. Eugene Levitt’s support, she reinvented herself as a Democratic candidate for Indiana state representative, a seat that she lost in 1974 and again in 1991.

Faith continued to reinvent herself and began to pursue what would soon become a successful real estate career. In her free time she also played competitive tennis and enjoyed sewing her own clothes.

After retirement, Faith continued to pursue her love for tennis, spending time with family and learning about the world. She discovered Road Scholar educational adventures and particularly loved learning about Shakespeare on Road Scholar programs in Ashland, Ore., at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Because of her love for learning and interest in meeting likeminded learners, Faith established a charitable gift annuity with Road Scholar, ensuring that the values she cherished can live on for future participants. Road Scholar is honored to include Faith as a member of the Road Scholar Legacy Society.

Carolyn Rundorff

Meet Road Scholar volunteer, donor and world explorer Carolyn Rundorff. Few people in this world can do it all — but Carolyn has certainly tried.

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A retired middle school librarian who volunteers for numerous local organizations, Carolyn’s life changed dramatically after her husband passed away in 2001. She had always loved learning and travel. When she heard about Road Scholar, she decided to embark on her first learning adventure to New York City.

“My first Road Scholar program was by myself, and my friends said, ‘You can’t go to New York City by yourself,’ and I said, ‘Well, watch me.’ I found that you’re very welcomed in Road Scholar programs if you’re traveling by yourself,” said Carolyn.

That first experience of solo travel and learning with Road Scholar changed Carolyn’s life. Since her initial learning adventure, she has attended 29 programs with Road Scholar — often traveling with friends she met on previous programs. She has explored Switzerland by rail, has searched for the “Big Five” on a safari program in Africa and has spent Christmas at the Grand Canyon.

But her love for Road Scholar hasn’t stopped there. Carolyn has bridged her enthusiasm for educational travel with a desire to give back to the organization. She volunteers as a Road Scholar ambassador, spends time as an assistant Group Leader and contributes to programs in her hometown of Portland, Ore.

Carolyn also wants to make sure that Road Scholar learning adventures are available for others to enjoy. Because of this, she contributes to the Annual Fund, and plans to leave a lasting legacy through a bequest to Road Scholar.

“I was helping out on a program in Portland and one lady on the program told me privately that she had received a scholarship to come on the Road Scholar adventure,” Carolyn said. “She was so excited to be there. She said to me, ‘You don’t know what a lift this has given me to be able to go for a whole week and enjoy something I never would have done before.’”

Moments like these inspire Carolyn to continue to give back to Road Scholar — a community that has provided new discoveries, places to explore and most importantly, new friendships.

“I have been enjoying traveling and talking to other travelers from all over the world,” says Carolyn. “My mother always said, ‘You volunteer, and it comes back around and does good things for you.’”

“My first Road Scholar program was by myself, and my friends said, ‘You can’t go to New York City by yourself,’ and I said, ‘Well, watch me.’ I found that you’re very welcomed in Road Scholar programs if you’re traveling by yourself.”

Carolyn Rundorff, Road Scholar