This piece was first written in spring 2017.
On Joan Ringer’s first trip to Washington, D.C., as a teenager, she rode there on an Anderson bus driven by O.D. Anderson himself. Decades later, three generations of Ringer women ventured to the nation’s capital on a spring Anderson tour.
“I’m glad we went. I thought we had a wonderful time,” said matriarch Joan, whose whole family lives in Fredonia, PA.
It was then-11-year-old Ella Valimont’s first trip to Washington, D.C, but her mother, aunt and grandmother had all been there as high school seniors.
In the 1980s, Lisa Ringer went with her class and Sheri Valimont went to Washington with the Reynolds Raiderettes, who performed on the White House lawn. They also toured the White House and saw Nancy Reagan. This time, the Valimonts, including Ella’s dad Van, walked by the White House and as they circled the back to try and see the rose garden.
“Security stopped us and said ‘Sorry, this area’s closed.’ ” Sheri said they stood for a few minutes and then decided to go into the gift shop and use the restroom downstairs. “While we were in the basement, the motorcade came out.”
They had just missed seeing the president.
Joan’s first trip was in 1950 when Harry Truman was president. She and a friend walked to the top of the Washington Monument but this time at 84 years old, Joan didn’t scale any 555-foot tall buildings. She was able to go at her own pace on the Anderson tour during the peak bloom of the cherry blossom trees.
“It worked out perfectly,” said Sheri of the bus trip. “There was enough to keep Ella busy and involved the whole time and when mom needed a break, she just stayed on the bus and was entertained by the driver. We still got to go and do everything.”
That driver was Nathan Book, whom they complimented on his driving skills. “I don’t think I could’ve parked my car in some of the spots he parked that bus,” said Sheri.
Over the years, Joan has been a passenger on buses driven by Anderson founder O.D.* and current president Doug Anderson. And she initially gave Nathan a bit of a rough time, she admits with a laugh. “The first day I said ‘I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you ain’t no O.D.’ ” She quickly came around, noting he was a good driver with a wealth of knowledge about the area to share.
Their first stop in the D.C. area was Arlington Cemetery on a Friday afternoon.
“I was amazed with it,” said Sheri. “I thought ‘what are we going to do for three hours at a cemetery?’ But then we ended up skipping two of the exhibits because we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and they happened to be doing a Purple Heart presentation to a family. We watched the changing of the guard. It amazed me how interesting it was… I could spend another day there.”
After the sun set, the group went to the National Mall to see the illuminated memorials. Lisa and Ella both said their favorite was the Lincoln Monument while Joan said she found the World War II memorial lit up at night to be “fabulous.”
Sheri said she was most impressed by the Korean War Veterans Memorial, calling it “incredible” and “moving.”
The Ringers noted there was a completely different feel at nighttime on the mall from daytime. This is one of the reasons Anderson tries to schedule tours so groups can experience it both environs.
On Saturday morning, the Valimonts walked the 1.8 miles around the Tidal Basin to check out the phenomenal cherry blossom trees, Ella said. The Reynolds 6thgrader retained an impressive amount of information from their tour, noting that the first cherry trees in D.C. were a gift from Japan to First Lady Nellie Taft. She also explained there are different types of trees, which vary from white to pink flowers. About 70 percent of them are Yoshino cherry trees, Ella said – correctly (we googled it).
“Boy, you’re good! I remember hearing all that stuff, but I don’t remember it,” Ella’s mom said.
The Valimonts then went to the National Archives, the SmithsonianNational Museum of American History and Natural History.
“We had to see the places that were in the movie Night at the Museum,” Sheri said laughing.
“All I really wanted to see was the ruby slippers,” said Ella of Dorothy’s footwear from The Wizard of Oz. She did get to see them, as well as the Hope Diamond. They also enjoyed seeing the first ladies’ gowns from the inaugural balls, Sheri said. Ella noted that a lot of them would be in fashion again right now.
At the archives, they saw the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“You weren’t allowed to take pictures because they said it would ruin the paper because it was on parchment,” Ella explained.
The trio saw a lot in that 4 hours on the mall. While the Valimonts were sightseeing, Joan and daughter Lisa rested in the hotel. Joan was thankful her daughter had been to the District a couple of times already since she was tired from the first day’s excursions. Another nice thing about Anderson tours is that they can be tailored and adjusted for the ability of the guests. Lisa said Anderson’s tour director even offered to make lunch arrangements for them.
Joan was refreshed and ready to go for the evening cruise. They boarded in Old Town Alexandria, VA, and cruised north on the Potomac with breathtaking views. While on board, they enjoyed dinner, live music and even dancing. On the way to and from the turnaround point in Georgetown, the boat’s glass-encased first floor and the open observation deck offered terrific sunset views of places including Potomac Park, the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall, the Kennedy Center, and the Washington Harbour.
“It was kind of amazing to see everything we saw,” Sheri said.
Their final morning in Washington, the group went to Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House across the street where President Abraham Lincoln died the day after being shot in the theater. The ladies were impressed by a three-story tower of books inside the education center. Ella said she scanned the titles as she climbed the spiral stairs and even saw some coloring books. According to the center, the titles are real but the physical “books” are actually fireproof aluminum replicas.
“I know I didn’t see a quarter of this stuff when I went the last time, but we weren’t rushed, either,” Sheri said. “There was just so much to see.”
*Full disclosure and interesting coincidence: Joan Ringer’s sister Marjorie is married to O.D. Anderson’s brother Sam Anderson. And Joan and Marjorie’s maiden name is also Anderson! The Anderson Coach & Travel associate who wrote this piece is the granddaughter of Joan and Marjorie's brother, Bud, the only boy of those 10 Anderson children.