Local tour group makes the most of trip to nation’s capitol

by Marianne Morf

They say, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”  A group of 35 seniors making a 10-day bus trip to Washington D.C. this month did just that.  

Members of the Clear Lake Bank & Trust Clear Sailing 55 Club departed for the nation’s capitol Sunday, Sept. 29.  On Monday, the vast majority of the groups’ itinerary was moot.  The government shutdown 

meant all federally-run facilities, including the Smithsonian, and Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. would be closed during the four days they had set aside to tour D.C.  Other sites along the way, like Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, were also closed to visitors.

“What we thought was going to be a total disaster, turned out to be fantastic,” said Joy Olson, who teamed with Sue Finnegan to host the bank trip.  “The trip that had been planned months and months ahead of time, with activities scheduled day by day, hour by hour, was thrown out the window.  We kind of punted-- and it worked out probably better than our original plan.”

Olson and Finnegan, who have led bank groups to destinations since Clear Sailing 55 was started 24-years ago, spent days networking with contacts and nights searching the Internet for possible tour activities.  Their results turned the adventure into a trip of a lifetime for many of the club members.

“We started out afraid that the trip was going to be adverse,” admitted Nancy Merrick, making the trip with her husband, Don.  “But it turned into a beautiful situation.  We saw things and did things we would have never done on a normal, pre-scheduled tour.”

Among the highlights of the trip was an unexpected and unprecedented tour of the Capitol building provided by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley,  and Congressmen Steve King and Tom Latham.  The trio was waiting on the Capitol steps to greet the group and proceeded to escort them through areas normally off-limits to visitors.

Finnegan, with the wonderful support of her cousin, Kathy Oakland, contacted Sen. Charles Grassley’s office to ask what the Iowa legislators could do to help the group gain access to the Capitol.  Their actions exceeded all expectations.

“I couldn’t believe it when we rolled in and they were standing on the steps waiting for us,” she said.  “A Capitol photographer asked me who were were, because he had never seen Senators wait for anyone on the Capitol steps. He said it was history in the making.”

The gesture was also not lost on the tour group.  

“We were impressed that the Congressmen took that much time to meet us and show us around,” said Carol Rosenthal.  Another highlight of the trip for she and her husband, Gordon, was the stop in Philadelphia, Penn., a city they had never explored.  

To replace scheduled stops which had been cancelled, the bus detoured to Stonycreek Township, Penn., near Shanksville, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after being hijacked by al-Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001.  During an attempt by some of the passengers to regain control, all 44 people aboard, including the four hijackers, were killed.  Another unexpected pleasure was a tour of the United States Mint in Philadelphia.

The Merricks also included time spent at the World War II Monument in Washington, D.C. as a trip highlight.  Although the monuments were technically closed during the government shutdown, the Clear Lake group saw Senator King and Minnesota legislator Michelle Bachman at the site, helping veterans traveling aboard an Honor Flight gain access.  They waved the Clear Sailing contingency through, as well.

“They told us to come on over, saying we have a right to see these.  These are yours,” said the Merricks.

Olson said access to Arlington National Cemetery was also granted because the bus had veterans, as well as persons who would not be able to tour the cemetery - Read More Via e-Edition

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