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travel with emelda
by Emily Merrell, photo by Amy Long

She has spent much of her life traveling the world, and Dr. Emelda Williams doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. The retired Arkansas State University business professor owns and operates Travel With Us Inc. along with her husband, Dr. Bill Williams, and leads most of the international guided tours herself.

A vivacious and energetic 80-year-old, Emelda has a love for smiley faces and all things travel. Through Travel With Us, she has visited more than 90 countries and been on more than 250 cruises.

“I’m a Southerner by choice, but a Yankee by birth,” said Emelda.

Emelda was born in upstate New York; her father, a Baptist preacher, was attending a seminary there. When she was in the first grade, her family moved to Knoxville, Tenn. Emelda completed her high school education there and had dreams of entering the workforce as a flight attendant.

“I have always wanted to be an airline stewardess,” she said. “I just thought that was so glamorous of a job. After I finished high school, I even applied to airline companies, and believe it or not, I was too short at 5-feet-3-inches, and I wore glasses. They would not let you wear glasses then.”

Although her dreams of traveling the world as a flight attendant would never be realized, Emelda had much more adventure right around the corner. After graduating high school, she moved to Wichita, Kan., with her family, where her father introduced her to a young man who had helped start a church with him and had plans to become a pastor.

“I told my father, ‘I’ll have nothing to do with him. I do not want to be a preacher’s wife,’” said Emelda. “But he had an automobile, and back in the ‘50s, if a person had a car, that was a point of interest. And he fed me. He took me to eat; that’s another point. So we courted for a while, and then eventually we did marry. So, I married in Wichita in 1957. We celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary on June 21.”

After working for a short time as a long-distance telephone operator in Wichita, Bill decided to re-enlist in the military and was deployed to Germany. Emelda’s flight overseas to go live with her husband was her first and sparked her passion for adventure and travel.
“I flew on a prop job from Wichita to New York City,” recalled Emelda. “It took all night to get there. I had a whole day to kill, and then I had to leave from another airport. … So I started walking. I didn’t know any better. I walked and I walked and I walked.”
Although cabs kept driving by and offering to drive her into the city, Williams kept walking and eventually stumbled upon Radio City Music Hall.

“At that time, it was a movie house, and the Rockettes would dance in between movies,” said Williams. “… I saw ‘A Summer Place.’ It was a chick flick, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and I enjoyed getting to rest for a little bit. After that, I took a cab to the airport. I learned my lesson.”

Williams then boarded her first jet, a Pan-American, which was supposed to take her to Germany; however, she had more unexpected adventures in store for her on this journey.

“I got on my first jetliner, and it was a fantastic jet, but it was cold,” said Emelda. “I wrapped up and took my shoes off and promptly went to sleep. When I woke up, we were landing in London. We were supposed to have been in Germany but had to land because we were running out of fuel. They told me I didn’t need to get off of the plane, and I said, ‘Wait a minute! I’m going to get off because I’ve never been to London before. I want to say, ‘I’ve got England under my feet.’ … My feet were so swollen I couldn’t get my shoes on, so I walked barefoot onto the tarmac and said, ‘I’ve been in London.’”

This pit stop caused her to miss her connecting flight, so she rode a train into Frankfurt, Germany. Meanwhile, Bill was in Munich, completely unaware of what had transpired. Luckily, after some investigation, the two found each other. They now use this experience to teach their customers about the unpredictability of travel.

After a few years in Germany, the two returned to the U.S. where Bill took a job as an ROTC instructor in Monroe, La., home of Northeastern Louisiana State University (Now LSU- Monroe). Despite a college education being a rarity for women during this time, Williams received not only her bachelor’s degree but also a master’s of business administration from the university. After teaching college around the country for a few years, Bill and Emelda began their doctoral studies at Mississippi State University, after which they both taught at Troy State University. They both became professors at A-State in 1978.

In 1991, the Williamses bought a travel agency, Travel With Flair, and renamed it Travel With Us Tours & Cruises Inc. Emelda continued working as a professor while also operating the agency until she retired from A-State in 2000. She says that teaching business while also running her own business has helped her succeed in both areas of her career – the two inform each other. After Emelda retired from teaching, she began working at Travel With Us full time.

“I didn’t want to retire to a rocking chair,” said Emelda. “I’m 80, but I don’t act it. The doctor says I have the body of a 60-year-old, and so I’m doing what I love to do. … I am my happiest when I’m sitting at the front of the motor coach helping people to see what they want to see. I love it, and it’s something to do. I’m not going to just vegetate.”

Emelda names Santorini, Greece as her very favorite destination; however, she also says her most recent trip is usually her favorite trip. Although she has visited more than 90 countries, she still has a few places on her bucket list, including Africa, Australia and New Zealand, which she plans to visit next year.

Williams believes all senior citizens, or as she likes to call them, antiques in action, should travel if they are able, especially with an agency.

“I feel that we give older people the opportunity to travel that they may not have been able to otherwise; we do have some people who travel with walkers and wheelchairs,” said Emelda. “Not only that, we do all the planning for you. I take people places they may not have thought of on their own, and they don’t have to drive or find someone to drive.”

Emelda’s number one travel tip? “Be flexible and be prepared for anything. Don’t be negative, be positive. When you think you’ve got lemons, make it into lemonade. Good things can come out of unexpected calamities.”

For more information about Travel With Us, located at 2718 E. Nettleton Ave., call (870) 932-7221 or visit travelwithusjonesboro.com.