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.
Denise Pedersen has been with WorldStrides from the beginning. She was a student of Phil Wendel’s and went with him to Washington, D.C., on one of his very first tours, before he started WorldStrides, then Lakeland Tours. The tour made a lasting impression on her, one she would ultimately carry with her throughout her career.
“I was so in awe when I first went to D.C. on our trip,” she said. “We met with both of our state senators. It was an amazing experience. We went to D.C., Gettysburg, and Williamsburg. I had never been out of the Midwest until then, but I loved reading anything political. It was fabulous. Having had that experience, it was fun to send other kids there so everyone could experience it.”
When Phil launched Lakeland Tours in 1967, Denise was still in middle school. She worked part-time for Lakeland, mostly sending out letters. She continued that job throughout high school.
“I kind of did everything,” she said. “Basically, it was a tiny operation at first. There were just three of us and I did a little of everything. I sent letters, answered the phone. When we got so busy, we had to have everyone help. Everything was done by hand. We also saw off all the groups at O’Hare Airport. People took turns going and staying until the final group of the day’s plane was in the sky.”
Denise worked in the WorldStrides air department after high school, booking students’ flights and in the earliest days, even handwriting airline tickets. When she moved back to Illinois in 1991, she transitioned to the role of account manager.
“The experience as an AM was good because I could see the other side of things,” she said. “I felt like I had a good handle on it, a good balance of profitability for the company, but also giving clients what they wanted. I really enjoyed having both experiences. That was a good experience because I did a lot of escorting. It was fun to see the end product.”
After taking a year off to be at home with her daughter, Denise returned to the air department where she works today. With plenty of great things to say about her career at WorldStrides, the greatest takeaway has been the people.
“When I was an AM, I met some amazing teachers who remain friends with me today,” she said. “I take that away as a wonderful thing from WorldStrides.”