Lou Holtmann wanted to spend more time with his family, so he bought a motorhome “” make that five of them!
By Pamela Selbert
When Lou Holtmann, F369233, chose a family activity that everyone in his clan of 21 would enjoy, he did it in a big way. The retired corporate executive from St. Louis, Missouri, who never before had been camping or owned a motorhome, walked into a local RV dealership, checked out models, then ordered five brand-new coaches. He laughs now, recalling “how that salesman’s jaw dropped.”
That was in the fall of 2001. The motorhomes “” five 31-foot Four Winds type Cs “” were delivered a couple of months later in early 2002. The only difference between them, a look inside revealed, is the color of the cloth window treatments and seating. Even the pattern of the fabrics is the same.
“I bought them so we could travel together,” said Lou, 60, who had retired in 1999 after serving 15 years as vice president of Guaranteed Air Freight and Forwarding. “I thought it would be a fun way to see the country and spend time with each other.”
Lou shares his coach with his second wife, Mary Lou. The two married September 10, 2005. The other coaches were for the families of Lou’s son, his two daughters, and a nephew. The ages of the bunch span 46 years “” the youngest grandchild is 14 “” so finding a recreational activity that would appeal to everyone was a tall order.
“But it’s worked out amazingly well,” said daughter Patti Watson, F373070, of Lonedell, Missouri, whose family includes husband Kevin; sons Nicholas, 21, and Bradley, 15; and daughters Danielle, 17, and Terin, 14. “We all get along and have such a good time together.”
The next step “” once the new motorhomes had arrived “” was to decide where to go and when. Previously, when Lou had taken family members on trips “” usually one group at a time “” they had traveled by plane. Orchestrating a trip for five motorhomes was something else entirely. So he decided to start by letting the kids take turns making the plans.
Because the younger members have school or jobs, the trips, it was decided, would take place during 10 days in June or July each year. Of course, the families also travel in their coaches individually at other times.
As the oldest of Lou’s children, Pam Scott, F373072, was charged with planning the first trip in 2002. She lives in Hillsboro, Missouri, with her husband, Kevin, who’s known as “Kevin I” (Patti’s husband is “Kevin II”), and their daughters Spencer, 18, and Sydney, 17. Whoever organizes the trek is responsible for choosing attractions, determining side trips “” nothing farther than 100 miles off the main route “” and making campground arrangements. Thus far the group has stayed mainly at KOA facilities.
“That first trip we went to Washington, D.C., where we checked into the campground then chartered a bus to hold all of us for seeing the sights,” Pam said. “Negotiating five motorhomes around town could be pretty tricky.” That trip also took the group to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
In 2003 it was Patti’s turn to make the plans. She chose Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge in eastern Tennessee, then Destin, Florida, with a stop in Memphis to take in Elvis’ Graceland mansion before heading home.
“We do the touristy things like visiting museums,” she said. “And highlights of several of our odysseys have been white-water rafting trips, something we all enjoy.”
Whoever plans the trip takes into consideration particular likes of other family members. Everybody agrees that a visit to a Hard Rock Cafe, wherever possible, is a must. So far they’ve collected T-shirts from seven of the establishments, which they claim are like mini museums of local culture. It’s not unusual for the whole crew to dress alike, wearing Hard Rock or similar shirts.
“It’s fun and also helps us find one another in a crowd,” Patti said. “Some of our shirts say ‘Lou’s daughter’ or ‘Lou’s son’ or whatever our relationship to him is, and everybody we meet wants to know what that’s all about.” When I met them, the entire family “” rabid baseball fans “” was wearing red or white St. Louis Cardinals T-shirts.
Son Lou Holtmann III, F373071, better known as “Trea” (pronounced “Tray”), has a special passion for the Indianapolis 500. So for the family’s 2004 jaunt, the first stop was in Indianapolis, Indiana, to see the famous racetrack. Unfortunately for him, that year’s race had already been run, but they did get to visit the famous Brickyard. His family, which includes wife Tammy and daughters Krystle, 18, and Kendra, 15, lives in Festus, Missouri.
That trip also took the group to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where, during tours of the battlefield, Trea said they “were aware of the ghosts.” They also visited Hershey Park in Pennsylvania “” everyone in the group enjoys roller coasters “” then drove on to spend two days in New York City. They continued to Niagara Falls and took the Maid of the Mist boat ride. Afterward they crossed the bridge to Canada to collect more Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts.
“Our plans always include something for everybody,” Trea said, whose family is the only one to travel with pets “” shih tzu dogs Sophie and Boston. “We have a lot of varied interests, but one thing we all agree on is our love of eating.” The family sometimes dines in restaurants, but meals are generally potluck events served around a campfire.
“Any time we pull into a campground, Dad rents sites for the five coaches, plus one extra,” Trea said. “That one is where we cook and eat.” And as evenings wear on, it’s where the group gathers for games or sing-alongs, while Kevin I accompanies on guitar.
Last year the annual family odyssey was organized by Lou’s nephew, Bill Chamberlain, F373069, of St. Louis, whose family includes wife Kathy and daughters Michelle, 23; Jennifer, 21; and Kimberly, 18. It was a lengthy trek that took them west to the Wizard of Oz Museum in Wamego, Kansas, then on to Abilene, Kansas, for a tour of the Eisenhower Museum and a ride on a 100-year-old carousel. The journey continued on to Colorado Springs, Colorado, where the group took in a rodeo. Other highlights from the trip were a brief stay on a dude ranch; a drive up Pike’s Peak; a white-water rafting trip; and a visit to Royal Gorge, near Canon City, Colorado. There some family members “” “not everyone, only those crazy enough,” joked Lou “” rode the Royal Rush Skycoaster, a swing of sorts that was that scary.
“We try to keep the trips to about 3,000 miles, staying wherever possible for a couple of days to see all the sights,” Trea said. “As soon as one trip is over somebody gets to work on the next one. They take every bit of a year to plan.”
It’s Lou’s turn to plan the itinerary this year. But as the founder and director of a group called Citizens for Safe Medians (www.citizensforsafemedians.com), he has other work on his mind as well. He explained that his first wife, Terri, their 4-year-old daughter, Cristen, a sister-in-law, and a nephew died in a traffic accident in 1996, a crash that could have been prevented if the interstate on which they were traveling had cable barriers installed along the median. Rural areas often lack them, he noted.
Lou organized the group two years later. Since then he has worked to raise money for the state of Missouri to erect the barriers by holding dinner dances, trivia nights, and other events at a local church. He also gives talks to a variety of organizations. “Anything I can do to get the word out and make people aware of how necessary the barriers are, and help prevent future crossover accidents,” he said.
Last year, according to Lou, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) found the dollars to erect barriers along Interstate 44 between St. Louis and Joplin, and along Interstate 70 from St. Louis to Kansas City.
Thus far Lou’s group (of which nephew Bill Chamberlain is one of eight associate directors) has raised $55,000, which it will present to the state to begin erecting the barriers along Interstate 55. Lou noted that for concrete barriers, which require an additional lane, the cost per mile is approximately $1.2 million, whereas the cable barriers cost in the vicinity of $100,000 per mile. Although the cables are less expensive, they are nearly as effective, he said, adding that they are able to stop a tractor trailer loaded with steel.
The accident helped Lou to realize how precious time is and how he wanted to spend as much of it as possible with loved ones. It also was a factor, he added, in his decision to buy the motorhomes, so the whole family (and sometimes friends as well) could travel together.
“There’s so much out there,” he said. “I wanted to see my kids and grandkids experience the United States.” Everybody always goes along, he added.
Lou said that the journey he is working on for July 2006 will include San Francisco, Alcatraz, the Hearst Castle, and the Grand Canyon; and it probably will be longer than the usual 10 days.
“The trips give us the opportunity to be together for extended periods, not just the usual holiday gatherings,” he said. “And we’re seeing and doing some wonderful things.”
“It really was a terrific idea,” Pam said. “We could just as easily all be going our own way, doing our own thing.”
And they’re all grateful. “We’re very fortunate, very blessed to be able to travel like this,” Trea added.