Three couples from The Village at Penn State have been checking off their travel bucket lists in retirement.
A Three-Year Quest: Cliff & Doris Wurster
As a retired military couple, Cliff and Doris Wurster are certainly accustomed to travel. Doris served as a nurse in both the US Army and Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel; Cliff is a retired Air Force colonel who served as a career logistician. The two met while stationed in the Philippines, and between them, their careers sent them all over the world, from Southeast Asia to Europe to the Middle East. Cliff’s father also had a career in the Air Force, so frequently moving and living abroad was a part of his lifestyle since birth.
All of that time spent overseas did not curb the Wursters’ appetite for travel. Once they retired from the Air Force and returned from overseas, Cliff worked some civilian jobs that took the family to various locations from Texas to West Virginia. But once their only son, Paul, was grown and starting out on his own at the Air Force Academy, Cliff retired for good, and the couple embarked on a three-year nomadic adventure across the United States in a 43-foot motor home as part of a quest to find the perfect place to settle down permanently.
The trip, which involved spending months at a time at various KOA campgrounds, was carefully plotted out.
“Doris would go to the library and make a list of things we wanted to see and do during our tenure. It almost was like that was our job. … It really made it worthwhile,” Cliff says. “We always had a purpose, and the destination was always something we wanted to experience to see if this is a place we might want to retire.”
The trip took them to many destinations across the country, including Gettysburg, Florida, Virginia, Utah, Montana, and California. They stayed in each location for several months at a time, participating in the KOA Work Kamper program, which involved working approximately 20 hours per week doing anything from cleaning and mowing to working in the campground store and serving Sunday pancake breakfasts to campers. In their free time, they would explore the surrounding area in the Jeep they towed behind the RV.
Cliff said he found a lot of places he would have liked to retire out west (“I am a cowboy at heart”), but Doris, who grew up in the desert near Palm Springs, California, retained a strong affinity for Pennsylvania ever since she was stationed in Valley Forge while she was in the Army.
“I loved Pennsylvania. I thought it was the most beautiful place, especially covered in snow,” she says. “He wanted to move to Wyoming, where we had to drive 17 miles to get a loaf of bread.”
So the couple, who have been married for 48 years, reached a compromise, returning to Cliff’s alma mater (he graduated from Penn State in 1967) in State College, while also maintaining a vacation home in Salida, Colorado. Keeping the two homes helped to curb their wanderlust.
“The biggest adjustment in retirement was that the way we were used to living, after just two or three years in a place, it was time to go. When we finally committed here, having a place to go in Colorado gave us a chance to break up our daily patterns, so when you came back, it was fresh here again. That helped,” Cliff says.
They sold their RV once they were settled, but they continued to travel, motivated in part by a desire to make up for lost time—the time Cliff had to spend away from Doris and Paul while he was in the service.
“I missed out on a lot. … So we are trying to make up for that. Our relationship with our son after we got out of the service has really been close; we are catching up,” he says. “So, making up, catching up, and giving back—those three things motivate me now.”
When he’s in State College, one way Cliff gives back is through his heavy involvement in Rotary. But even on the road, the Wursters give back. For example, both Doris and Cliff enjoy fishing, and they have spent several summers volunteering as part of a fish study in Yellowstone.
One recent travel highlight was a Canadian trip with the Penn State Alumni Association in which they took a train from Calgary to Vancouver. Most recently, last winter they spent five weeks in San Antonio, Texas, where their son lives with his family.
At 78, the Wursters are not finished checking off their bucket list. At the top of that list is a trip to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in Canada, as well as a trip to New Zealand.
157 Countries & Counting: Jim & Alice Wabold
It’s much quicker and easier for Jim and Alice Wambold to list the places in the world they have NOT been than it is for them to list where they have been.
That’s because out of 195 countries on earth, the couple has visited 157 of them. They’ve also been to all 50 states, every continent, every ocean, every sea, and almost every major river. According to Jim, the interior of Africa and the interior of Asia are just about the only places the couple has not visited.
It all began when Jim was a professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State. He was appointed to an international committee that took him to meetings across Europe and Asia. Alice would join him on many of those trips.
After Jim retired from the university in 1991, the couple started cruising—sometimes with friends, sometimes just the two of them. Eventually, they set a goal to join the Travelers’ Century Club, an organization whose membership is made up exclusively of people who have visited 100 or more countries.
“We hit 100 countries, and we just kept on going,” Jim says.
The couple has accidentally found themselves present for some pretty big historical moments during their adventures. They were in China near Tiananmen Square during the protests in 1989.
“We left the day before the real shooting started,” Jim says. “The hotel we were in is where the TV people were; the halls were just covered with cables from the TV cameras. When we got home and saw videos of what they had done, there were bullet holes on the walls of the building we were in.”
Later that same year, they were in Berlin when the wall was taken down.
“Somewhere we have a little piece of the wall we picked up,” Jim says.
Some of their favorite trips were a little less newsworthy, but memorable (although “cold,” they say), including a trip to Antarctica as well as a trip to Spitsbergen, the Norwegian town nearest to the North Pole, where security personnel protect visitors from polar bears within the town’s borders.
Both Jim and Alice say seeing new places and meeting new people are the best part of traveling.
“We have friends all over from cruising and from committees I was on,” Jim says. “So we have people all over the world we know and go visit.”
Even after 62 years of marriage and 157 countries, traveling together is still a priority for the couple. Next up is a tour from Quebec down through New York state to see the fall colors in late September.
In addition to their frequent vacations, which they mostly plan themselves, they have a home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, which they still visit at least once a year. They say they have just one big item remaining on their bucket list, if Russian relations allow for it: a Trans-Siberian Railway trip from Moscow through Mongolia.
Enjoying Nature’s Beauty: Dennis & Beth Ricker
When Dennis and Beth Ricker set out on an adventure, it’s usually a long one.
“We figure if you’re going to take a plane somewhere, you may as well stay awhile, because we don’t like long flights,” Beth says.
They do seem to enjoy long boat trips, however.
One of their favorite trips was a three-month cruise through the South Pacific on a small ship. The cruise went from Tahiti to Fiji to Guam, stopping at many of the surrounding tiny islands along the way.
That was in 2009. Now, as the oceans have been rising, “We wonder how many of those islands are still there,” Beth says.
The Rickers have taken several river cruises through Europe and a few closer to home, including a cruise through the Erie Canal to New York and Canada’s Thousand Islands, and another boat trip through the Erie Canal and all of the Great Lakes. They also took a cruise from Portland, Oregon, along the Columbia River to the Snake River.
Their most recent trip was a boat trip last year from New Orleans up the Mississippi River to Saint Louis, and then to Minnesota. They’ve also done several trips that are partly on land and partly by boat, including a trip to Japan and a trip to Costa Rica.
Now married 58 years, the Rickers celebrated their 40th anniversary with a three-month land trip to Australia and New Zealand.
They both say one of their favorite places to visit is Iceland. They first visited it for just two weeks back in 1999, before Dennis retired from Penn State’s Applied Research Lab, then went back for a lengthy stay in 2016. They say the country changed a lot in the intervening 17 years.
“Oh my, what a change,” Beth says. “They’re really into tourists now, and there are a lot more people everywhere. The first time we went, we would stay in boarding schools, which they turned into bed and breakfasts during the summer. Now they have hotels.”
The Rickers are both fascinated by volcanoes and were able to see them up close in Iceland and Hawaii, as well as in New Zealand, where they shared a helicopter ride with a volcanologist. Exploring the natural world is the most interesting part of their travels, they say.
“When we are in Europe, or even here, there are beautiful museums and things, but nature is the most beautiful thing of all,” Beth says.
They thoroughly enjoyed a three-week road trip through Oregon, just taking in the sights along the coastline and in the mountains.
“But you don’t have to go that far,” Beth says. “Even in Pennsylvania, we took about a week and a half one time and just went along Highway 6. It was fun. We love to go up and see the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, too.”
Beth says one of the few places they have not yet been is Alaska, and the next item on their bucket list is a boat trip around the San Juan Islands in Washington state.
After all of their traveling, Beth has one piece of advice she would like to share: “Go while you can, and make it a priority to do it. Because some day you’ll reach a point that you can’t, and you never want to know that you missed out on doing things.” T&G
Karen Walker is a freelance writer at State College. This story appeared in the September 2022 issue of Town&Gown.