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Packed and ready in Red Wing: Nancy Swanson

Red Wing, Minn., a historic town known well by those who cruise the Mississippi River, is a group travel favorite for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that Red Wing is the home of the world’s biggest boot, standing 20 feet tall and weighing 2,300 pounds.

Just like Red Wing’s reputation in the group travel world, this community with 16,000 residents also stands tall as an ideal life and retirement community.

“This is a beautiful place to live with so much to do. We’re lucky,” said Nancy Swanson, group travel leader and executive director with the Red Wing Area Seniors Inc., a private, nonprofit organization that boasts an impressive 900 members.

Swanson, whose background includes 21 years in program development, grant writing and advertising with technical colleges, has been at the helm of the Red Wing Area Seniors for eight years. A lifelong resident and major fan of Red Wing, leading this active group on a dozen day trips a year to fun nearby attractions like dinner theaters and casinos was second nature for her.

Traveling beyond her comfortable boundaries to faraway destinations was another story — at least at first.

“I’ve got lots of stories that tested my skills,” she said. “On another occasion, I lost five people during a layover in the Dallas airport where we had almost no time to switch planes on our way to New Orleans. Being ‘Minnesota nice,’ a few members didn’t push their way out of the crowded airport train in time to get off at the right stop. A few others were tempted by a Burger King,” Swanson said with a chuckle.

“You know, sometimes things go wrong but it seems it all gets worked out.”

The members of the Red Wing Seniors can thank Swanson’s sensitivity to her group’s needs for their wide variety of travel choices. Day trips are often repeated year after year, like their annual trek to nearby Wisconsin to stock up on maple sugar and honey crisp apples in the fall.

On the other hand, successful ventures have also included a lengthy cruise on the Mediterranean Sea and a 12-day journey on the Mississippi River.

“Some experiences, such as our shopping therapy trips to the fantastic Apache Mall in Rochester, never get old. Most importantly, we define opportunities for everyone, from $25 day trips to tours that cost thousands of dollars,” she said.

“But on a side note, I want to add that I grieve the loss of the Delta Queen family of paddleboats. That Mississippi River cruise on the Mississippi Queen was by far my personal favorite trip. Talk about luxury, history and relaxation — it was the best.”

As executive director, Swanson defines her biggest duty as “money,” but even this hefty responsibility offers activities for group members. The organization operates a successful thrift store that provides volunteer opportunities, as does its location in a medical building, where members have a variety of options, including welcoming patients.

With a new grandson, an ailing mother and a job that doesn’t offer a 9-to-5 schedule, Swanson can relate to people who have valid excuses to put off traveling.

However, she preaches the advice once told to her by a travel agent: “You travel now. Make your memories now. Don’t have regrets — travel with that person you want to travel with, because one of you may not be around in the future to create those unforgettable memories.”