March 07, 2012 - For 21 years, she planned every detail, went on every trip and made sure that everyone had a wonderful time.
But sooner or later, everyone wants to kick back and relax, including Mary Jean Hanson, who's served as travel coordinator for the Oxford Township Parks and Recreation Department since April 1991.
"I decided at (age) 81, maybe I better retire," she said. "I'm going to miss it, I'll tell ya. I loved it."
Hanson, who lives in Lake Orion, has spent the past two decades coordinating trips over land, sea and air to destinations both local and exotic. The majority of folks who go on the trips are senior citizens, but these excursions are open to all ages.
"During her tenure, Mary Jean has created countless memories for hundreds of participants with her world-class trips," wrote Parks/Rec. Director Ron Davis in a letter to travel club members. "She made each trip very special with her cheerful smile and warm wittiness."
Over the years, Hanson's taken groups on trips to New Zealand, Australia, England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Hawaii, Missouri, Florida, Texas, California, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia and North Carolina.
Trips within Michigan included visits to Frankenmuth, Detroit, Mackinac Island, Kewadin Casino and Chelsea.
Her absolute favorite place to visit was Branson, Missouri, a tourist spot well-known for its variety of family-friendly musical entertainment.
"I just love that place," Hanson said. "They're so nice down there. It's just a wonderful place to go."
Hanson's dedication and attention to detail not only made the travel club the successful program it is today, it also earned her the 2011 "Margaret Whitehead Senior of the Year - Service Award" from the Michigan Recreation and Park Association.
When asked what she'll miss most about her position, Hanson immediately replied, "the people," both the travel club members and her parks/rec. co-workers.
"Through the years I've been very fortunate when it comes to the people who've gone on my trips," she said. "I love everybody I've worked with. Ron has been the best boss I could have ever had. Becky, Dan and Judy – they've all been so good to me.
"I've never had a problem with any of them. I couldn't have worked with better people."
Despite her retirement, Hanson isn't simply going to fade out of the picture. She and her husband, Bud, plan to continue traveling with the club whenever they can.
Taking over for Hanson as the new travel coordinator is Becky Paquin, the parks/rec. department's current office administrator and coordinator of senior programs and activities.
"I'm really excited about it. It's just kind of a natural progression for me to move into this position," said Paquin, who's been with the department since 1998 and has a degree in gerontology, the study of aging.
Paquin is already quite familiar with the travel club given she's spent more than 10 years working very closely with Hanson regarding the selection of trips, daily shows and administration of the group.
"I think Becky will do a good job," Hanson said. "She's worked a lot with me, so she knows what's going on."
Paquin believes the travel club is a popular and beneficial program because it gives folks a safe and comfortable way to visit, explore and enjoy places.
"They don't have to worry about parking a car or driving themselves," she said. "Everything is well-planned and already put together for them.
"It's an easy way to travel if you're not one that's very adventurous. It's an easy way to see things and do things. Actually, I think you see more because you have tour guides that show people things they might not otherwise notice."
Paquin plans to really promote the fact that the travel club isn't just for senior citizens or limited to a certain age group.
"The reason most of the people who go are retirees is because the trips are generally during the day," she explained.
Trips that take place during the summer or on evenings and weekends generally consist of a more diverse mix of ages.
"When we go to a Tigers game, I'd say half the trip is kids and youth," Paquin said.
Paquin was definitely sorry to see Hanson retire. "I'm going to miss her terribly," she said. "She's become more of a mom to me than a co-worker."
However, Paquin is glad to know that Hanson will finally be able to enjoy the trips as a passenger. "It will be nice to have people waiting on her instead of her waiting on other people," she said.
For more information about the travel club, please visit www.oxparkrec.org or call (248) 628-1720.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.