By Chandra Harris-McCray
They have never met a stranger.
Janie Bragg and Sally Shelton travel where no one knows their names, and yet they appear to be part of the cruise ship’s welcoming committee. They catch a glimpse of an orange T shirt and figure it must be a UT person, so they make a beeline to get acquainted.
Anything but amateurs, the McMinnville, Tennessee, residents have seen the marvels of the world—from the majestic, snowcapped Alps of Gornergrat in Switzerland, to the mythic relics of Athens and Troy, to the breathtaking architecture of Monte Carlo—seven times over with the UT Alumni Tours program. And they aren’t even close to finishing their bucket list of must-see places.
Where will they go next? They aren’t sure, but “it will always be with UT. We wouldn’t want to see the world any other way,” says Bragg, who attended UT in the early 1950s.
Her orange blood has rubbed off on Shelton, “so much so that I feel like I went to UT. Halfway around the world, I get just as excited when I see someone wearing an orange cap or Tennessee button,” Shelton says, laughing. “It truly is something.”
Beginning friendships with like-minded people is just as important as discovering the mysteries of the earth, says Bragg, who also has traveled solo with the alumni tours program. “You enter the ship or hotel often not knowing a soul, but you leave having gained a friend or two.”
Since 1971, the UT Alumni Tour Program has educated and connected more than 3,300 alums and friends. Among the 33 trips planned for 2012 is the first monthlong trip to Cuenca, Ecuador. A trip in May to the Celtic lands will feature David Eisenhower (President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s grandson) and Celia Sandys (Winston Churchill’s granddaughter). In June, a journey to the Baltic Sea will include special guests Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of Russia and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and former president of Poland Lech Walesa.
“Just reading through the travel catalog every year is like taking a journey,” says Bragg.
Shelton says, “We start making our plans right away. For so long I had to say goodbye when Janie was leaving, but not anymore.”
Best friends for 53 years, road warriors Bragg and Shelton have stood by each other through thick and thin—kids, the deaths of their husbands, even an 8.0 earthquake when they traveled to Chile last year.
“If I had died, I would have been doing the exact thing I live to do,” says Bragg, who sees the world as her classroom thanks to her mother, who exposed her to traveling internationally as a young girl. “I have always wanted to go, do, and see.”
Bragg and Shelton say no matter where they go, their inquisitive spirits always lead them to see the beauty in every place—from the cobblestone streets of European villages, to the Japanese gardens in Monte Carlo, to the goat parade in Switzerland.
“We don’t have any favorites. They’re all our favorites,” says Shelton.
Bragg adds, “Especially when you can find adventure and lifelong friends.”
See the schedule of upcoming tours at www.utaaconnect.com.