Whether it’s the natural beauty and lakes, shows, attractions, shopping or just plain down home American spirit, millions of people come to Branson each year to enjoy what it has to offer. Many of those visitors come as part of a “group” ranging from 20 to hundreds of people and covering everything from meetings and conventions to bus tours; church, bank and student groups and reunions of every type including class, military and family.
The Lakin High School, located in Lakin, Kansas, just west of Garden City, had 26 graduates in the Class of 1956. About 14 of those graduates and eight of their spouses decided to celebrate their class reunion in Branson this year. The reunion was held on September 22 – 24 and was a delightful combination of fellowship, renewing of acquaintances, reminiscing and sharing of fond memories all woven together with an opportunity for them, as a group and as individuals, to relax and experience all that Branson has to offer.
Although the events described below were seamless to the attendees because all they had to do was show up and enjoy themselves, there a lot of planning and effort by others to make that happen. “As in just about every group coming to Branson there is one or more people, ‘Group Leader(s)’ or ‘Planners’ who, whether designated as such formally or not, shoulder the responsibility for planning the trip and making sure that everything goes as planned,” said Annette Wood, the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Branson Tourism Center (BTC).
“The mission of the BTC Groups Department is to help the Group Leader provide their group with a greatest Branson experience possible by providing as much assistance as they want or need so all they have to do is show up with their Group and everything is ready for the event. When the ‘co-chairs’ (Group Leaders) for the ‘Lakin Class of 56 Reunion,’ Ron Edgington, Pat LeClerc and Jim Smith”contacted BTC, Preston Garrison, one of BTC’s Group Sales Managers, worked with them to help plan the reunion. After finding out exactly what they wanted he worked with them to make it happen exactly the way they wanted it at an affordable price.
LeClerc said, “With all there is to do in Branson we wanted to plan an itinerary that provided an opportunity to experience some of Branson’s shows together as a group and give our classmates an opportunity to do other things on their own, fellowship and just relax.” Edgington said that during the planning of the event, they would tell Preston what they wanted, he would give them ideas and recommendations which they reviewed, decided on and he took it from there. He said, “Basically, ‘one call’ took care of it all.” When asked if he would recommend the Branson Tourism Center for others planning a reunion he said, “Absolutely, in fact I would recommend them to individuals planning a trip to Branson.”
They were especially pleased with the service and help provided by BTC’s Garrison. LeClerc said, “Preston was very helpful, knowledgeable and attentive. We were very pleased with everything he did.” She shared that when they got the written proposal it was so low that they thought Preston had left the shows off. They were presently surprised to find out that wasn’t the case. As I attended events during the reunion there were numerous comments of appreciation about the services provided by “Preston” and BTC that helped make the event so successful.
On Day 1 the Class of 56 and their guests arrived in Branson, checked into the Stone Castle Hotel and had free time until their welcoming dinner in the Excalibur Room of the hotel that evening. After dinner the group saw a video that took them back to their youth in Lakin and some great memories of the past, pictures of their last reunion and just relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. The Excalibur Room was heirs for the entire time of the reunion so that they could get together and fellowship with each other at their convenience.
Day two started off with breakfast and a free morning. In the afternoon they went to see one of Branson’s hottest shows, SIX and that evening went to see the spectacular presentation of Jonah on the 300 foot surround stage of the Sight and Sound theatre.
Day three was a free day, until 4:45 p.m., for them to just relax or experience, on an “individual basis,” some of fun and excitement of Branson. Some went on Ride The Ducks, some just relaxed, some went shopping and 18 of them spent their morning at the Bretts show. I just have to share one comment made by Pat LeClerc, one of the co-chairpersons who planned the trip. While commenting on how great the show was, she said how impressed she was at the Brett’s forward thinking about the entertainment of the generation “that will come after us” and their commitment to providing a show that entertains all ages from three to 90.
At 4:45 the group all boarded the 100 foot luxury yacht “Landing Princess” for a dinner cruise on beautiful Lake Taneycomo in the glimmer of the setting sun. The service was excellent, as was the smoked chicken and brisket dinner topped off by “Famous Dave’s Bread Pudding.”
After the cruise everyone met back at their hotel for a cake and coffee reception, entertainment provided by their class mates and more fellowship. The one thing that was obvious at all the events I attended was that they were having a great time and truly enjoyed each other.
This is the story of one small group and their Branson experience. The neat thing about Branson’s tourism industry and the Branson Tourism Center in particular, is its dedication to making sure that every visitor and group, large and small, has a great Branson experience that will leave them with great memories. Although my wife, who was one of the graduates in the Class of 56, and I live in Branson, if her reaction is any indication, I just have to believe that the Class of 56 left Branson with some wonderful memories of what they shared together and of Branson.