WorldStrides is celebrating 50 years as the leader in student travel by sharing the stories that have shaped our company’s past and will propel us into the future. Throughout the year, we will highlight stories from our history, many of the people who have made us what we are today, and some of the special ways travelers have been impacted by their experiences in our blog series, 50 Years of WorldStrides Stories.
After Bob Polster returned from taking a group of eighth grade students to Washington, D.C., with WorldStrides – then Lakeland Tours – in 1969, he enjoyed the trip so much he called up company founder Phil Wendel and asked if he could sell the trip to other teachers.
“It’s one thing to learn classroom out of books, another thing to see it happen first hand,” he says. “Experiential learning is the best way to learn.”
Bob didn’t quit his teaching job, however. He taught science for 34 years, led groups of students to D.C., for 33 of those years, and sold teachers around the country on taking their students on the same program during his planning sessions, lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends. These days, Bob is the longest tenured employee at WorldStrides.
“I used to be so excited,” he says. “It was the highlight of my year, taking students to Washington. I didn’t even teach social studies or history. I taught science. I took on average about a hundred students. I probably took 3,000 eighth graders over my career. During my planning and lunch period, and after school, evenings, and weekends, I would sell Washington, D.C.”
When Bob started selling trips, he did things the “old fashioned” way. He made his calls from landlines, often tying up the school’s one phone, looked up phone numbers in phone books he ordered from AT&T, and even called realtors for information on schools in their area. When Bob got in trouble with the school’s principal for keeping the phone line tied up, he rented a storage closet at a gas station a block away to use during lunch and planning periods.
“I paid him $100 a month to sit on a chair almost in the dark using the phone,” Bob recalls. “He asked me if I was a bookie because it made no sense to him why I would pay him a $100 to use his closet. I used to keep the door open because I couldn’t see. Right next to me there was a ringer. There used to be these rubber hoses and when a car would go over it, they would make a ‘ding, ding, ding’ noise so the attendant would know to come out and pump gas for someone. I’d be talking on the phone and cars were going in and out with that ringer going off.
“Before that, there was a payphone in the gas station and I would have to bring tons of change,” he continues. “I’d put in dimes, but decided I preferred sitting rather than standing. Later on, when they invented cell phones, I bought a cell phone brief case for $2,500 that weighed forty pounds and then I would hide in the science storeroom during my planning period.”
Bob has seen a lot of changes at WorldStrides over the years. He’s watched the company grow, and has been on the front lines as technology changed the sales process.
“I was the first sales person at WorldStrides,” he says. “I helped the company grow. They had like 35 schools when I started. It was sort of opening the door. It’s amazing and exciting. It’s hard to believe that it could change so much. I sort of had to change with the changes. I had to keep on adapting. All and all, the changes have been very positive.”