Rohde retiring, closing Waupaca agency
By Angie Landsverk
When Judy Rohde started working at a local travel agency, she intended to do so for just a short time.
“I had just graduated from college with an elementary education degree. I was subbing,” the Waupaca native said. “I thought I’d give it a try.”
In 1975, Vic Mueller contacted Rohde via the parent of one of her high school friends and asked if she was interested in working at Uni Travel, the agency he started in 1973.
It was the first travel agency in Waupaca.
“I started in ‘75, and I’ve been here ever since,” Rohde said.
Now, after 40 years in the business, she is retiring and closing the agency.
Monday, Aug. 31 is her last day at Passport Travel.
“It’s fun. I love working with people. I love to travel. It’s been able to provide me with both of those,” Rohde said. “Now is the time to hang it up. I just turned 65. Now it’s time for me to play.”
Retiring along with Rohde is her employee, Mary Grant, who joined the agency in 1990.
Uni Travel became Passport Travel in 1996, after Rohde and Patricia Mather bought the agency. Mather started working there in 1980.
When Mather retired in 2003, Rohde and her husband, Jon, became the owners. Grant continued to work for them.
Through the years
The agency was originally located in part of the Fletcher’s Jewelry building before moving to the top floor of what is now Chase Bank and eventually to its current location at 104 N. Main St.
“When I started, it was September,” Rohde said. “That holiday season, the airlines at that time were notorious.”
She said they did everything over the phone before writing it out by hand.
“I thought, ‘I’m not going to quit this job until I know what I’m doing,’” Rohde said. “I got through it. I guess I got beyond that point and never looked back.”
She was single at the time and said working at the agency gave her the opportunity to travel with other agents when familiarization trips were offered.
“When I first started, there were moms and dads coming in celebrating their 25th anniversaries,” Rohde said. “Now there are college kids.”
Both Rohde and Grant remember how excited people were when they went somewhere.
Today’s younger generation often no longer expresses that “wow” factor after going on a trip, Grant said.
Rohde also remembers the Official Airline Guide the agency received, typically on a monthly basis.
It had the cost of flights, and they presented people with handwritten tickets.
“That was the bible,” Grant said.
Today, they see flights change in the course of a day, and that is something neither one of them will miss.
Rohde loves booking European river cruises, and Grant said they work with some nice touring companies.
They find the best fit for their clients.
“I think there is value in a travel agent because they work with companies all the time, fitting them into what will be best, knowing where to go if something happens,” Rohde said.
Both Rohde and Grant have traveled extensively and have their respective strong suits.
“People find comfort when they know we’ve been someplace,” Rohde said.
Rohde loves Disney, while Grant loves trips involving the outdoors.
When it comes to traveling, Rohde’s favorite place to go to is Europe.
Grant’s favorites are Africa and China.
“I’ve never been any place that I wouldn’t go back,” Rohde said.
Today and tomorrow
Rohde said today’s consumers do more research before traveling, “but when it comes time to booking it and putting it on the credit card, they want someone else to do it.”
What scares her the most, she said, is when people plan and book destination trips on their own and do not know if they need a VISA or a passport.
People should not book trips on their own when they have those types of questions, she said.
Rohde and Grant said their work was never boring.
“It’s going to come to a halt,” Rohde said. “We both have files we will be finishing. Customer service has always been important. For anything booked, we will be in contact with those people until they’re back home.”
She said it is sad the business is closing but also an exciting time.
Both of them have trips lined up and look forward to traveling together, something they were not able to do when one of them always had to be at the agency.
Rohde and her husband live in Appleton and have a summer home on the Crystal River. They have two trips planned already.
“I’ve been to over 40 countries on four continents, and I’m going to keep going,” she said.
Of the business, Rohde said, “You have to like people and have that desire to travel to make it worthwhile. The community has been very supportive. We have a lot of very loyal clients.”
She said they helped people plan trips of a lifetime and also helped people in times of need.
“It’s been a privilege to work with the staff I’ve had, along with the community,” Rohde said. “The timing is right.”