Above Photo: Von Erickson in London on one of the many trips she led for the People’s Bank & Trust Travel Club. Photo courtesy of Von Erickson.
BUFORD — They always say that when one door closes, another one opens. This was the case with one Buford woman as the death of her husband led to a world of discovery. She took her pain and sorrow over his death and turned it into a new career and so much more.
Von Erickson was 46 when the world that she knew turned upside down when her husband passed away unexpectedly at 46. Her husband, Jerry Hughes, was slated to be the very first President and CEO of the newly formed Peoples Bank & Trust that was set to open in December 1984. He would never take on that role as he died from a sudden heart attack in October 1984.
Von and her husband were high school sweethearts and married at 18 years old. Although she had worked a couple of little jobs over the course of their marriage, taking care of the house, raising their three children and tending to their large yard would be what kept Von busy over the years. With her husband suddenly gone, those tasks no longer held meaning and she found it difficult to find joy in them. Her children were grown and she found herself alone.
Peoples Bank & Trust went on to open their doors on Dec. 13, 1984, with longtime friend Clayton Bartlett as the President and CEO. Von, needing to find a way to stay busy and fight her sadness, asked Bartlett for a job. He gave her a job as the receptionist for the bank. It was this job that led to the next door or chapter of Von’s life. It was just a few years later that Bartlett asked Von to form a travel club at the bank.
“I was scared and excited and I decided to give it a try,” Von said.
The very first trip that Von organized as part of the new People’s Bank Travel Club was to Nashville, Tennessee, with 17 people. Von took approximately 80 people with her on the next trip to Branson, Missouri. There were many trips that had close to 100 people go and when groups were large, Von would take her friend, Bette Taylor, to assist her. The Travel Club went to locations all over the U.S. including favorites of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.; Alaska; Hawaii; and Branson, Missouri. They eventually branched out to include international destinations. Some of their favorite international destinations included Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Australia, Ireland and Iceland.
The Travel Club became so much more than just a way to see a destination for many people. Many of the travelers were single men or women, some widowed and they did not want to travel alone. Others had physical limitations and with the help of Von and other bank employees, these individuals could finally travel again and see the world. People were able to socialize, sightsee and make memories in a safe and controlled environment.
Von explained that whether they traveled by boat, plane, bus or train, the journey was just as much fun as the destination.
“I heard many say that the travel to the destination was as much fun as the trip,” Von said.
She incorporated games, such as one that had a person wear a silly hat or they had to tote around a baby doll. They would then have to go into the restaurant they had stopped at and had to keep the doll or hat until someone else said a certain word.
“Our stops were memorable to us and to those in the restaurants,” she said.
Von later remarried in 2001 to Carl Erickson and he joined her on some of her travels up until his death in 2016.
“The Travel Club has existed for 34 years and I am now 83 years old,” she said.
Von still goes on some of the trips but has since passed the torch to others for the international destinations. The last trip that they took before the coronavirus pandemic hit was to the Panama Canal. The Travel Club opened up a whole new world to Von, as well as others. It became something more than just seeing new places.