Charlotte Kozak (left), Jamie Kozak and Mary Anderson visit at Dow Gardens in Midland, Mich. They’re part of the Granite City Travelers, a traveling service sponsored by the Granite City Park District.
GRANITE CITY — Madison resident Charlotte Kozak signed up for a traveling service 10 years ago that allows senior citizens from the Granite City area to visit places all over the country.
The service was called the Granite City Travelers, and her life has not been the same since.
“I heard about it from a neighbor,” the 67-year-old Kozak said. “She had gone on a few trips. She lives across from me in Madison. She needed someone to travel with her on the trips.”
After going on her first out-of-town trip, Kozak became hooked.
“We’re very thankful that the Granite City Park District has this wonderful program that is offered to senior citizens who live in the Granite City area,” she said.
The Granite City Park District sponsors the Granite City Travelers. Park district Director Dave Williams says the traveling service has been in existence for 30 years.
“It started out as day trips to Busch Stadium and just different places,” Williams said. “Since then, Sue Champion ran it for over 20 years. They’ve been to the East Coast, to New Orleans; they’ve been out west and all over the country. Two years ago, she retired. We hired an interim coordinator and she did it one year and then she wasn’t able to do it (any longer). This past year, we’ve taken a different approach. Vandalia Bus Lines is assisting us and organizing the trips, but they do all of their signups and travel with us. They vary from one day to four day trips this year. There were a couple of the overnighters we had to cancel due to lack of participation.”
This year, the Granite City Travelers will be having trips to Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, Mo., on Aug. 20, the St. Louis Symphony on Oct. 16, the Spirit of Peoria in Grafton on Sept. 23, Branson from Oct. 5-7, Northern Indiana from Oct. 20-23 and the Opryland Hotel at Nashville, Tenn., from Dec. 9-11. They visited St. Louis in May and Arthur, Ill., in June. Trips to North Arkansas in June 22-26 and Wisconsin on July 29-Aug. 1 were cancelled.
Williams said anyone interested in going on a trip can sign up at the park district office. Judy Dothage is the trip coordinator.
“We’re still taking signups for Branson,” Williams said. “We’re taking signups for Opryland Hotel. We have room in our Warm Springs Ranch. We have a little bit of room on the Spirit of Peoria. We have a few spots left on the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.”
The traveling service allowed Kozak to bring her daughter, Jamie, to the trips.
“By the time I started traveling, she was in high school,” she said. “I couldn’t really pull her out of high school. In her last year, I spoke to Sue Champion, who was chaperoning the trips along with her husband, Babe, at the time. I asked her if it would be OK if I brought my special needs daughter along.”
Kozak said Jamie, who is 27, said she started to enjoy the traveling service after going on a couple of one-day trips.
“She graduated from high school, so I was able to take her to more frequent trips,” Kozak said. “The people who have been on the bus sometime before me had more or less taken her under their wing. They accepted her as part of the traveling family. They got to know her and they got to know me.”
Kozak said traveling also helped her meet new people.
“When we travel from home, we’re just like a family — a traveling family,” she said. “We get to know one another and that’s how it is.”
Kozak said there are people from all over the Metro East who participate in the traveling service.
“There are people from all around from Edwardsville, from Alton, from Bethalto, from Collinsville,” she said. “They come all around to sign up. The situation is if you’re a Granite City resident, you don’t have to be on a waiting list.
“I, being a Madison resident, had to be put on a waiting list when I first started out there, but I usually manage to get on almost every trip when I first started.”
Kozak said she and her daughter have visited numerous places such as Cape Cod, Savannah, Ga., Dallas, Texas, and Philadelphia, Pa.
“It’s been a wonderful opportunity for all of us,” she said. “We’ve been to a lot of special places and we met a lot of nice people. It’s been one adventurous ride and it has opened up a whole new world for my daughter and me.”
For more information, call (618) 877-3059.