Laurie Thacker on a safari in Africa
Bank directors typically work in a variety of positions before they embark upon their group travel careers. But few begin their bank careers designing office spaces and choosing furniture and paint colors for the interiors of the branch buildings.
At Independence Bank in Owensboro, Kentucky, as well as at other western Kentucky locations, Laurie Thacker has been the interior designer for eight years. She’s the go-to person for every decor detail in those commercial spaces, as well as the organizer of the events and galas that go with the openings of new Independence Bank buildings throughout the region.
“While I was originally hired to do this, when they began the Freedom Travel Club seven years ago, they wanted someone to represent the bank who worked well with people,” Thacker said. “I guess they had seen me in action in a variety of situations and thought I’d be good at it.”
Thacker, who claims that all of the bank’s employees are sitting in chairs she picked out, considers her co-workers her friends and extended family. “I could walk into my CEO’s office — anyone’s office — and they would help me, even in my personal life,” she said.
Perhaps it was that warm vote of confidence from the start that gave Thacker free rein of Freedom Travel Club. “I was given no advice, except for ‘Just do what you want.’ So I thought, what the heck, I’ve always wanted to go to Italy,” she said with a laugh.
Thacker started her research on Italy with the help of the Internet, learning about tour companies and studying those companies’ financial backgrounds. She spoke directly to a travel director at another bank and, to this day, remembers that person’s generosity. “Because of her, I still try to lend a helping hand to others,” Thacker said.
As a result of her attention to details, there were no major bumps in the road when she escorted the group to her dream destination.
“Getting off the plane with 40 people in an airport I’d never been and no one spoke English — well, it was daunting. But I just kept my head up and acted like I had all the confidence in the world,” she recalled.
Thacker said that her whole travel process has been refined since those early days and that the club, with requirements of $500 in a checking or savings account, now boasts 500 people. The club takes three extended and/or international trips a year, and Thacker prides herself on offering adventure travel in destinations that are attractive to baby boomers.
“We have to remember that boomers can jump on the computer and plan so many trips on their own,” she explained. “So I try to offer destinations and experiences that they wouldn’t or couldn’t do on their own.
“We rode elephants in Africa and visited impoverished areas where we had lunch with the natives. In Australia and New Zealand, we watched bungee jumpers and enjoyed meals in personal homes. In China, we were totally immersed in their culture and fell in love with the people. In the Pacific Northwest, we rode on jet boats where our hair was flying. On the Amalfi Coast in Italy, we cruised in a ferry to really get the best of the spectacular view.
“And, in the French Riviera, we went to beaches where there were lots of nude bathers. This year, I am offering a trip to Brazil, Argentina and Peru; a tour of Ireland; and a trip to our northern national parks.
“My greatest joy is making people’s dreams come true. So I ask them, “What have you always wanted to do? We’ll do it.’”
Not forgetting the folks who are older and perhaps not as capable of arduous travel, Thacker plans some one-night trips to destinations around her home state.
“We have so many in Kentucky that are perfect, short getaways,” she said. “We take advantage of the Keeneland horse racing in Lexington; the Corvette museum and assembly plant in Bowling Green; and our famous distilleries, breweries and wineries that are everywhere.”