VItoP Travel Journal

Peoples Bank VItoP Honky Tonk Mystery Trip September 18-21

Starting out bright and early Peoples Bank VItoP Club was treated to a breakfast of ham rolls and fruit cups to get their day started before the drive to their mysterious destination. Some guesses as to the destination  had already been made, so to add interest, everyone was asked to write down their thoughts of where they were going. The papers were collected to be read on the way home with a “fabulous” prize to be given to the closest guess.

Going through Kentucky everyone was still wondering where they would be at the end of the day. After enjoying the scenery with mountainous landscapes and changing leaves, the motorcoach pulled into the Jenny Wiley State Resort Park deep in the heart of the Appalachians. The Resort overlooks scenic Dewy Lake in Prestonsburg Kentucky.  Mary Ann Fisher and Dottie Hutchinson were glad to hear this would be the lodging for the entire stay. The group was greeted by local tour guide, Brooke. After getting everyone settled for dinner at the lodge Brooke introduced the first of many entertainers-- The Bryant Family. Dad Randy played the guitar, while daughters Meghan and Emily played the banjo, fiddle and guitar. Susan Kolakowski enjoyed the southern bluegrass and harmonizing by the sisters.

After a good night’s sleep, another artist, vocalist Sarah Norman, performed popular songs during “The Starving Artist” breakfast while a hearty buffet was served before a busy day. Starting in Paintsville, KY, and the Mayo Methodist Church. Local coal baron John C. Mayo built the church along with his mansion next door out of local massive cut sandstone walls decorated with beautiful Italian stain glass windows. In 1909, the Mayo family donated the church, truly a unique structure and interior for the area,  to the congregation. The Pichner pipe organ was given to Mayo by Andrew Carnegie. Linda Wheat, Gail Smith, Sandra Pate and her sister Hettie Lee Richardson enjoyed the hymns played by the local organist. Catherine Ross, Peoples Bank hostess, had the opportunity to play a few of her favorite hymns on the massive organ before leaving for the next surprise destination.

A tour of U.S. 23 Country Music Highway Museum dedicated to the country music entertainers who were born along or lived near the route. Entertainers exhibited included Billy Ray Cyrus, The Judds, Tom T. Hall, Ricky Staggs, Dwight Yoakum, and several others including Loretta Lynn. After touring and a short film featuring Loretta Lynn telling about the making of the movie “A Coal Miners Daughter”,  several including Billy & Jean Nolen, Carolyn Patrick, Marie Berry and Faye Bragg thought a visit to Butcher Holler must be next. Not yet, the next stop was the Mountain Homeplace, an example of a 1850’s working farm where period-dressed women presented stories at historic buildings. These included a double-pen cabin, a church, and a one room school where Jo Ogg and daughter, Jennie Ogg, demonstrated a little old fashion discipline later shared with family and friends via modern social media. Lunch was served along with entertainment by local, Troy Burchett, playing guitar singing gospel, country and southern rock classics. Another treat, the director of the farm changed her farm boots to clogging shoes to dance for the group.

The group then headed to the Van Leer, a mining community built by the Consolidated Coal Company, and made famous by Loretta Lynn.  A few houses built for the mining community remain along with the Coal Miners’ Museum which housed the cooperate mining offices, the post office and Dr. Offices for the community of around 6000 at its peak. The group stopped at an original coal company store now Webb’s grocery, bought and ran by Loretta’s brother Herman Webb until his death. Still owned by the family, groceries, as well as memorabilia from Loretta and Crystal Gail fill the nostalgic country store. Teresa Ricketts, Peoples Bank hostess, said the smell reminded her of Howard’s grocery in Clifton. Stan & Vicki Bobbitt along with Joani Daniel and her mother, Yvonne Horton, enjoyed the singing by former “The Voice" contestant Rachel Messer whose yodeling secured her a place on team Blake Shelton. R C Colas and Moon Pies were a treat while listening to Rachel and waiting turns to be shuttled by Brooke up the 2-mile road into Butcher Holler and the homeplace of Loretta Lynn. On the way an old mine entrance could be seen where men worked 10-hour days deep in the mines on their back or knees breathing in the harmful coal dust until the mines were finally closed.  At the house a special treat, Herman Webb’s daughters &  Loretta’s nieces, Connie and Herma Ann directed the tours with stories of the family and showing original furnishings of the house all recreated in the movie. Before leaving Fadra Cass, Norma Thompson , Bettye Miller and  her sister Wanda Calvert, had their picture taken with Herma Ann on the famous porch.

Heading back to the picturesque town of Prestonsburg, everyone noticed blue lights from a Police Car. What was this about? Not wreckless driving from VItoP favorite driver Steve Carter, but a police escort arranged by Brooke to help navigate a one way street.  A little shopping in a couple of local stores was enjoyed by several including Dianne Butler, Betty Martin, and Patricia Thurman. Following a delicious dinner, another opportunity to hear local talent by young musicians at the Mountain Arts Center. First, the mayor of Prestonsburg addressed the crowd praising how the area has thrived with its natural resources they have taken advantage of since the decline of the coal industry, giving a clue to the next morning’s activity. Then everyone, including Sue Hickman, Iva Farris and son Michael enjoyed the young musicians beginning with Tyler Newman who wowed the crowd with his soulful voice singing old time country with a touch of blues. Songs by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and other classics were performed by Sarah Rice and students at the MAC, Jenna Dunaway, and Zoe Howard, both 16 years old. Accompanied by The Moonshine Band which included two of the music teachers at the Center, along with students Christian Porter on electric guitar and Jaxon Ratliff on bass guitar. Ernest & Alice Jones danced the two step while sisters Evelyn Tharp and Linda Tucker showed off their square-dancing skills while Jenna sang “Old Kentucky Girl”.

Up before dawn the next morning for a special viewing: Elk. At the top of a reclaimed strip mine, next to the local airport, is home to several herds of Elk. Though they can be elusive, a herd of about 10-12 was sighted. Another treat was horses that roam the area. Released by their owners because they could no longer care for them, they are thriving in the wild. They were especially enjoyed by horse enthusiast Janet Mohead and Bill Freeman with his wife, Carole..

Back to the resort for a moving performance by Shannon Daniels portraying Jenny Wiley and her story of being captured by Native Americans in 1789. History such as this is kept alive by locals, many who are Jenny Wiley descendants.

After lunch, a relaxing pontoon ride on Dewey lake followed. Four boats were filled, one driven by the versatile guide Brooke. Bill & Judy Goodyear enjoyed the scenic cruise to the earthen Dewey Dam, where the park naturalist explained that the manmade lake was created to control flooding in the area.  

 Free time was enjoyed at the lodge before Brooke took everyone to another nearby attraction. As mentioned by the mayor, flat land is hard to find in this area, so the city has taken advantage of another reclaimed strip mine now home to baseball and soccer fields, large homes and an 18-hole championship golf course overlooking the surrounding mountains. After enjoying the view, Brook directed the motocoach back to the park where Uncle Shine was waiting to explain the making of moonshine and how it was a part of Appalachian and United States history. Afterwards, the Moonshine Band was back for a little mountain music, picking banjos and mandolins. A private BBQ dinner followed  at the Pines Building where Janna Dunaway joined the group again, this time with 11-year-old Jonathon Moore who amazed everyone singing “Blue Moon of Kentucky”. Jonathon had the crowd clapping along as he sang other bluegrass tunes.   Everyone was glad to see Janna back and was surprised when she led everyone in singing Happy Birthday to Virginia Tinin who was served a piece of cake with a lit candle to celebrate her 94th birthday.  The evening ended with Jenna, who had also donned her bright orange UT sweatshirt, singing “Rocky Top”. The Peoples Bank VItoP travelers and all the family of entertainers along with our special guide Brooke had grown very fond of each other. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone, including our special server Amanda, the lodge, and the beautiful mountain setting.

Heading back home one more treat was  lunch at another beautiful Kentucky State Park, Barren River. As a buffet was enjoyed by Mildred Stephenson, her son Bobby had made arrangements to buy and bring home on the coach a set of seats for one of the numerous cars he is restoring. You never know what you will see or return home with when you join Peoples Bank VitoP group on a mystery trip!



Enchanting Ireland

On April 27th the Peoples Bank VitoP travel club landed in Dublin Ireland and was greeted by guide and driver, Sean Fenton. Right away the group was treated to a driving tour including The Georgian area where houses had beautiful leaded glass and colorfully painted doors, Trinity College, the historical General Post Office where bullet holes could be seen from the 1916 Easter Rising, monuments of Political Leaders, Authors and a memorial to the 19th century great Famine along the River Liffey that divides the north and south sections of the city.  After seeing the charming city the tour ended at the Guinness Storehouse. Charles Williams and Dana Wilson enjoyed the story of Guinness, starting over 250 years ago of how it is made.  The tour ended with a panoramic view of Dublin city from the 7th floor of the storehouse.  After dinner Ava Barnett, Larae Heill, Terry Ritter, Barbara Coleman, and Teresa Ricketts, Peoples Bank Escort, explored Grafton Street and its unique shops while others took advantage of an early evening.

 The first of many bountiful breakfasts was enjoyed before departing for Glendalough and St. Kevin’s monastery. Built over 1000 years ago the guide explained about the Round Tower and remains of several churches and cathedrals along with ancient gravestones and Celtic crosses. It is said, if your fingers can touch while hugging St. Stevens cross, your wish will come true.  Next stop was Powerscourt House and Gardens where Judy Mathis, daughter Jerry, Carol Prater and granddaughter Mallory enjoyed the ornate Italian formal rose garden and Japanese garden with a maze of walkways,  voted 3rd best garden in the world by National Geographic. More exploration of Dublin that afternoon included the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland,   St. Patrick’s, by sisters Jennifer Edwards and Caren Vandergrif. The Book of Kells, one of the great treasurers of medieval Europe, was enjoyed by Bettye Miller and  Julie Brown.

The picturesque country side had Linda Paulson and Deborah Kennedy’s attention watching sheep and the patchwork fields of green on the drive to  Kilkenny. Some took the opportunity to explore the Kilkenny Castle built in 1195 overlooking the River Nore before heading to Waterford, the country’s oldest city, founded by Vikings in 914 AD. An entertaining Irish story teller led the group on a walking tour including   Christ Church Cathedral, the finest 18 Century ecclesiastical building in Ireland. Don & Mary Jo Morgan were amazed at the beauty of the massive organ and Georgian architecture. Faithlegg , a sprawling, luxurious manor house dating to 1783, was the nights lodging. There Larry & Shirley Wilson enjoyed the fine dining choices while Craig  &  Leigh Holder enjoyed a stroll on the grounds after dinner.

 After a relaxing night the group toured the Waterford Crystal plant. Carolyn Patrick & Nina Johnson were intrigued at the workmanship that each piece requires. At a pub  lunch stop in Dungarvan, Dottie Hutchinson and Mary Ann Fisher enjoyed  hot soup while our host entertained us with traditional Irish music. A surprise guest performer was our driver/guide, Sean, who sang a few songs while playing the guitar. Traveling along the scenic coastline the next stop was Blarney Castle. David & JoAnn Taylor, Anna Johns and Pat Holder, Peoples Bank hostess, were among many others lining up to climb the winding stairs to kiss the Blarney Stone. After that adventure, many shopped for wool at the Woolen Mills.

An enjoyable three days was spent in Killarney , Ireland’s most charming and exciting small towns. The first day started with a visit to Muckross House, a 19th century Victorian mansion set against the stunning beauty of Killarney National Park on the shores of Muckross Lake. Carol & Carl House marveled at the elegant furnishings completely done over for a visit from  Queen Victoria  in 1861.  Creed and Janie McGinley enjoyed the surprise ride on jaunting cars, a horse drawn buggy in American language. Driven by local jarveys with witty and charming storytelling, they took the group through Killarney National Park with a stop at Ross Castle.

That evening  Peoples Bank group enjoyed  a traditional Irish dinner and music at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. Sisters Ronda Bynum, Vonda Hughes and daughter Morgan Hughes clapped along while two young men danced Irish Jigs to the bagpipe, flutes, an accordion, and guitar.

The Ring of Kerry was the next adventure. At the Kerry Bog Village authentic thatched cottages were set up to see how people lived many years ago. Continuing through the wild and rugged landscape of the Iveragh Peninsula,  breathtaking views of the Atlantic  coastline and charming villaes were enjoyed before a sheep dog demonstration. A local farmer showed the group how his Border Collies could herd, separate and watch over his flock of sheep by whistles and vocal commands. Also interesting was his display of different breeds of sheep.

The most westerly part of Ireland was next  as the group traveled along the Dingle Peninsula,  the most beautiful part of Ireland. Everyone relished views of patchwork fields displaying hundreds of shades of green. separated by low, ancient stone fences and dotted with sheep. The crashing sea was marvelous from the high cliffs and very narrow roads. That night everyone was treated like royalty at the Dromoland Castle. Robert & Melonie Lee made pictures of the lavish grounds while Denise Brawner proclaimed herself Queen of the Castle. Her husband Jeff agreed she was in her element.  A 5 star dinner was served in the elegant dining hall under fabulous Waterford  crystal chandeliers.  After dinner many snapshots were made on the graceful stairway framed by opulent stained glass, and  in  the Gallery with more chandeliers and a cozy fireplace.  There the breakfast buffet  was served the next morning…. staying in a castle was  truly an amazing experience.

The last day, more travel along the coastline included the Majestic Cliffs of Moher.  Alan & Tina Johns were in awe at the Cliffs that rise 600 feet above the surface of the Atlantic. The landscape changed as Sean led the group through the Burren with lunar-like rocks  and cliffs.  Evening brought the group to yet another breathtaking site, the Irish Sea. Strolls along the golden sands of Portmarnock beach with rolling waves  were enjoyed before dinner. A beautiful Irish sunrise greeted the early risers not quite ready to bid farewell to the Emerald Isle. Memories of a beautiful land, friendly people and their music accompanied the Peoples Bank VItoP travelers home as well as a few woolen sweaters and scarves!


Peoples Bank VitoP tour Historic Hudson River Valley

When the Peoples Bank VItoP Club arrived at Newark Airport from their Nashville flight, Julie, their personable guide, welcomed them and collected luggage for the ride to the Rocking Horse Resort in Highland, NY, located midway the Hudson River Valley. Immediately this group of Southerners felt right at home in the appealing atmosphere of the resort. Dinner meant ordering from a list of enticing entrees and appetizers (more than one if you wanted) and then helping yourself to the extensive dessert bar. Seating for the VItoP dining was at a bank of windows overlooking the beautiful grounds of the resort. Since this is a family resort, the rooms were spacious with two queen beds and a set of bunk beds in each room.

Stan and Vicki Bobbitt were out early the next morning to watch the horses being brought from their stable to the field where horseback  riding was offered. The VItoP schedule did not leave time for that activity but several enjoyed seeing the equestrian area as well as the bevy of blooming plants on the grounds. The motorcoach left for a tour of West Point which was the highlight of the trip for Don & Mary Jo Morgan and Jerry & Diane Brawner. The West Point guide was interesting and well-spoken as she pointed out the various buildings, many historic that have been updated for current use. Bill & Judy Goodyear, Dottie Hutchinson and Mary Ann Fisher learned about  Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer referred to as the “Father of the Military Academy” and saw his home built in the early 1800s that is still in use today. The designation of this National Historic site is due to its part in the American Revolutionary War and its location on a strategic s-curve of the Hudson River.  Sue Hickman, Janet Johnson, and Barbara Coleman enjoyed a walk on the grounds seeing monuments and hearing about the notable graduates and traditional rituals of the cadets.  

A box lunch was served as the motorcoach transported the group to Kingston, NY, where they boarded the Rip Van Winkle for a cruise on the Hudson River.  The unusual Esopus Meadows Lighthouse and the Rontout Lighthouse were both the subject of many camera clicks. Enjoying a leisurely afternoon on the water,  Elouise Blackwelder and Billy & Jean Nolen commented that the Hudson was a much wider river than expected. Another fabulous meal at the Rocking Horse Resort was the end of a lovely day for some while Bob & Bobbie Hammond  gravitated to the live  music  venue and others went outside to see the bonfire pit.

Another bountiful breakfast buffet and then off to Saratoga Springs was the itinerary for the next  day. A light rainfall did not dampen the spirits but did make navigation a little difficult in this picturesque resort town over 200 years old. A combination of mineral springs, famed gambling houses, and the Saratoga Springs Racetrack drew many people to this city, especially the rich & famous. Beth Johnson, Lindia Paulson, and Deborah Kennedy enjoyed time spent in the building that onetime housed the prime casino and offered exhibits of the city’s history. A colorful local guide then took the group on a driving tour, pointing out homes owned today by familiar political and industry names. He kept everyone’s attentive with his fascinating tales and had the coach circle the Saratoga Race Track that is still the primary reason for tourism today.  Larry & Nancy Roser and John & Jean Jernigan were pleased that he gave all the VItoP travelers a copy of one of his books set in that region of New York.  Since parts of the movie Seabiscuit were filmed there, that movie was played on the coach returning to the resort hotel for another tasty dinner.

The next day included more good food and a morning tour of Clermont State Historic site, the riverfront home established by the Livingston family that included Robert Livingston, a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Janie Shutt, Bettye Miller, and Norma Thompson were intrigued to learn that his son Robert administered the Oath of Office to George Washington, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, and partnered with Fulton to create the first successful steamboat.   Kay Williams and Judy Rogers marveled at the amount of history tied to this estate owned by seven generations of the same family.

Lunch was on your own at a busy diner, and then the group arrived at another highlight of the tour, the FDR Home and Presidential Library & Museum, also overlooking the Hudson River.  Larry & Shirley Wilson, Suzanne McFall, and Pat Holder, Peoples Bank escort, enjoyed the many personal treasures that were included in the museum. The collection of birds native to the property that Roosevelt shot as a young boy and then applied the skill of taxidermy to preserve both the male & female of the species interested John & Deborah Driver.  Bob & Shirley Maniss and Alex & Gail Homra learned that during his 4-term administration the general public did not realize Roosevelt had lost his mobility to polio and used a wheelchair. David & JoAnne Taylor, Janice Trawick and Gabrielle Cooper found his childhood home to be not a lavish showplace but comfortable with a welcoming ambiance. So much information was gleaned in this first presidential library which became the prototype for subsequent presidents.  Late afternoon found the Peoples Bank travelers at the Culinary Institute of America where student chefs provided a tour of the stately building; through large glass windows the students could be seen preparing different foods, with the exquisite candies bringing oohs & aahs from the group.  A 4-course meal that could be termed “upscale dining” was served by student chefs in one of the attractive restaurants on campus. Many of the buildings or services are sponsored by hospitality industry giants.

Another wonderful breakfast buffet at Rocking Horse Resort prepared the VItoP group for their travel home, but one last stop made on the Hudson River was Sunnyside, the charming home of America’s first internationally famous author, Washington Irving.  The romantic architecture of the small stone cottage reflected the era of the mid-19th century and was a delightful ending to the tour for Charlotte Wolfe and Catherine Ross, Peoples Bank escort.  Several comments stated this Hudson River Valley, though not a destination that is well-known,  was extremely  interesting for its rich history, beautiful  scenery, and importance as a waterway. It was deemed an educational and enjoyable time enhanced by the outstanding accommodations and great food!