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The Group Travel Leader Small Market Meetings Going on Faith

Managing the Herd

When Mary Ann Gelven retired after a 25-year career with the Missouri Farm Bureau, she decided she would take a part-time position as a teller at Legends Bank in Linn, Missouri. Soon, the bank’s travel-club-director position became available, and Gelven thought to herself, “Hmmm, that job sounds like lots of fun.”

That was three years ago, and today, Gelven is the director of not only the Advantage Club but also the marketing department, and she feels fortunate that her life took this unexpected turn. “I liked my former career, but I feel God led me to this career I love,” she said.

Gelven’s previous title was microcomputer networking supervisor, and she traveled the state training employees. Although that career may seem unrelated to what Gelven does today, this admitted computer wizard looks back and sees her background as having been very useful.

“When I first placed computers into county offices in 1983, the secretaries were terrified — for good reason. It was my job to train them and make them feel comfortable, because no one is going to open up their hearts unless they feel comfortable. It’s the same with my job here. It is my job to have people feel comfortable with me and trust me.

“In addition, [my experience] using my technical skills to write my newsletters and produce spreadsheets for things like for costs and passenger lists has come in very handy,” she added.

An active suggestion box

Another bonus from Gelven’s previous position was her travel experience. Her business had led her to nearly every community in the state. Although these jaunts didn’t allow for leisure time activities, she immediately knew where she wanted to take the Advantage Group for day trips and long weekends.

“It was so nice to return to places like the historical and charming town of Lexington, Missouri, where I had longingly wanted to explore on previous visits,” she said. “We went there last year on our mystery trip and enjoyed touring battle sites and seeing the Civil War cannonball that is still lodged in the courthouse. We had a great step-on guide and even stopped at an apple orchard for some fun.”

Taking destination suggestions from a variety of sources, Gelven plans domestic extended trips from beginning to end.

“A colleague told me about the Mardi Gras festival in Shreveport, Louisiana, a very family-friendly event, and I decided to make it a full-fledged Southern hospitality tour that began with lunch at a historic bed-and-breakfast and included plantation tours,” she said.

On another occasion, the group’s wise and well-traveled bus driver suggested the group visit Door County, Wisconsin, where Gelven offered a “you-pick itinerary,” allowing travelers to choose what they wanted to do for one day. Those choices included some spa time, a lighthouse and winery tour, and charter fishing.

“It was a grand idea. When we all met up for dinner at the end of the day, it was so much fun to hear about everyone’s experiences, including all those fish stories,” she said.

“The Advantage Group consists of 900 members, and I am hoping that number will grow and attract adventurous boomers with ideas like the you-pick itinerary.”

Monthly birthday parties, an annual bingo party and quarterly Lunch and Learn events are also on the Advantage Group’s agenda. Gelven is especially proud of the success of her annual grandparents trips, which have been sellouts.

“Last year, we went to St. Louis and enjoyed attractions for all ages, and we even braved a visit to a Chucky Cheese restaurant,” she said. “This year, we’re going by Amtrak to tour Daniel Boone’s old homestead. After ordering coonskin hats for everybody from an Internet site, I’m calling it the Train and Coonskin Trip.

“These trips are so rewarding. Many grandparents have approached me after spending such a great day with their grandchildren and said, ‘We would never have done this on our own.’”

Home on the range
Although Gelven has been her church’s pianist for more than 30 years, she has also accompanied a 300-member choir and performed in front of 10,000 people at the University of Missouri. “I’ve loved playing the piano since I was 8 years old. I’ll play anywhere, from church to music competitions,” she said.

She also sings at home, her husband’s family homestead that includes 350 acres and Angus cattle — lots of cattle. Gelven wasn’t sure of the exact number, but she noted, “I do know we have had nine new calves in the past few weeks.”

Gelven’s husband, Ken, is a computer programmer who splits his day between full-time employment and their farm. Ken even built a log cabin, crafted with hand-hued timbers, that offers this outdoorsy couple and their grandchildren a place of respite.

“The top floor overlooks what we call our seventh heaven, a beautiful seven-acre patch of ground. Ken actually completed the structure just in time for his 60th birthday party, where we transported guests via horse and carriage to the cabin, where we had a band and a hog roast. We really love it.”

The Gelvens also love gardening. “Thanks to Ken’s mother, we have flower beds like you can’t believe, full of heirloom perennials that surround our house. While I spend a whole lotta time weeding and transplanting, it’s a special feeling for me to have taken over the role,” she said.

This multitalented director added that she isn’t doing as much weeding and transplanting as she had originally planned for what turned out to be a short-lived retirement. But she has no regrets.
Gelven described her life this way: “Who else gets to plan parties, travel, spend money and make people so happy? I’m very lucky.”

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Mary Ann Gelven Manager 2 Manager