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Checking in with Larry Dawson

Fast Facts about Larry Dawson

Larry Dawson is the Elite Advantage Director and Regional Marketing Director for Hawthorn Bank in Clinton, Missouri.

Hawthorn Bank has 25 locations in western and midwestern Missouri. The bank’s Elite Advantage Club is available for customers over 55 and with a bank account of at least $5,000. More than 1,300 members are involved in the program.

Born: Muscatine, Iowa

Education: Dawson has a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Iowa.

Employment: Dawson spent 35 years on-air as a radio morning show host in Kansas City, Missouri. He joined Hawthorn Bank in 2018.

Family: Dawson and his wife, Joyce, have been married for 40 years. They have two children and five grandchildren.

Hobbies: Dawson enjoys hunting, fishing, riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and boating on Truman Lake.

The Ability to Improvise

In January 2020, Larry Dawson felt like he’d finally mastered the ins and outs of group travel planning. His two years of managing Hawthorn Bank’s Elite Advantage Club in Clinton, Missouri, had taught him a lot.

Then the pandemic hit.

“I told my wife at the beginning of the year, ‘I think 2020 is going to be a piece of cake. I think I’ve got this down,’” said Dawson, Elite Advantage director and regional marketing director for Hawthorn Bank. “Then it was like someone threw a bomb in the room.”

Though not the most experienced group leader, Dawson had a skill that served him well in 2020: the ability to improvise. Dawson called upon his years of experience as a radio morning-show host to figure out how to manage his travel program during the COVID-19 pandemic. He thought outside the box for a way to take a bank group to Colorado in September.

“I would be lying if I didn’t admit I felt a little bit like I was on the Lewis and Clark expedition,” said Dawson. “I’ve always been a trailblazer. We took every precaution we could. The group had a blast. Every one of them said they would do it again.”

After a successful group trip during the pandemic, Dawson is already planning his group’s next safe adventures to meet the needs of his eager-to-travel members.

Think Fast

For 35 years, Dawson didn’t know what was going to happen next. He would talk to callers live on his classic-rock morning show program, then decide what to say on the fly.

“I had to be creative on the radio,” said Dawson. “Radio is like theater of the mind. It is a performance that you have to improvise the entire time you are on the air.”

After deciding to retire, Dawson and his wife moved from Kansas City, Missouri, to Clinton, Missouri. Before retirement could begin, Dawson seized an opportunity to try something different. He became the Elite Advantage director and regional marketing director for Hawthorn Bank.

Dawson had previously helped plan trips to concerts for his radio show listeners, though nothing as detailed as group travel planning.

“I think it was a little overwhelming at first,” said Dawson. “But with any job, you use a little common sense and ask a lot of questions. Sooner or later, if you are smart enough, you will figure it out. One of the assets that a travel coordinator needs to possess is the ability to be flexible, which is something that I’ve always been good at.”

He first tested out his skills as a group leader on a winter trip to Alaska.

“I thought Alaska is the last place I would want to be in the winter,” said Dawson. “Once we go there, it was an amazing trip. Everybody got to take their own three-mile dogsled ride. I would do that trip again.”

Ready To Explore

Dawson had 42 people signed up for a September trip to Colorado when the COVID-19 pandemic started altering people’s travel plans. In July, when the final payment for the trip was due, only three couples canceled; the rest of the travelers wanted to find a way to go.

Dawson worked with his tour operator, U.S. Tours, and other vendors to figure out how to safely travel to Colorado. By the time the trip started, Dawson had reworked the Colorado itinerary 15 times.

The trip kept running into new snags. One unexpected problem came after an announcement that anyone traveling into New Mexico had to self-quarantine for 14 days. The Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad ride originally had a scheduled stop in New Mexico. Dawson worked with the railroad company to allow the group to go on the same route, just not to deboard.

“They did a great job working with us,” said Dawson. “All of the vendors were so happy to see group travel, they bent over backward to accommodate us.”

Among the precautions taken were vigorous cleaning protocols aboard the motorcoach, wearing masks and taking passenger temperatures. The group also separated itself from other travelers by riding in separate train cars and eating away from other patrons. Hotels sanitized rooms, then put seal stickers on the doors after each room had been cleaned.

“The whole trip went a lot smoother than I had anticipated,” said Dawson. “When we got back from our trip, everybody was happy. I thanked them for placing their confidence in me and the bank to keep them safe.”

Pandemic Planning

Instead of letting the pandemic stop his group trips, Dawson is thinking outside the box for 2021 tours.

“I’ve already proven it can be done,” said Dawson. “I wouldn’t advise throwing caution to the wind or encouraging someone with a preexisting condition to travel with us. But if you are healthy and you want to go, I am going to do everything in my power to keep you safe and make sure you have a good time.”

All of Dawson’s 2021 trips focus on domestic destinations with outdoor activities. The bank group is slated to travel to Yellowstone this winter. Other trips include Mackinac Island, Michigan; a Columbia River cruise; and Branson, Missouri, for Christmas.

“We saw plenty of people out traveling in Colorado,” said Dawson. “Everyone wants to travel, but they are mainly traveling right now in their own cars. We in the travel industry have to convince people that traveling by bus or plane is as safe as traveling in your car.

“People are starving for any kind of entertainment or travel at this point. You have to learn how to adapt to the new normal, but you can still go do things. The places are still open, and they are waiting for us.”

Destination Faves

Rhine River Cruise: It’s a place I have always wanted to go. We have a trip scheduled for 2022.

Ireland: We went in 2019. It was an incredible trip.

Columbia Snake River: This is by far the most impressive domestic cruise offered by the American Queen.