Best of the Vikings – Brief Bios

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Why Brief Bios? For each of our trips we have had a Brief Bio Page and it has been especially helpful in getting to know each other and our interests both before and during the trip. Plus, it is a wonderful way to remember peoples’ names. Who We Are: There are 29 of us going on the trip and we range in age from 45 to 79 with the median age being 61. We come from both coasts and many states in between with about half of us married and half are single. Brief Bios are Private: Although this web page is on the 52Best website, it is private and only we who are traveling together know it is here. Sharing: Any of us are welcome to share this page but only with our friends and family. Updating: If your photo and/or Brief Bio is not here or needs updating, please get it to me asap. My email address is and my phone 972-702-0000.

David.Alcoze160David Alcoze: Lewisville, Texas – I am in my first year of retirement and l am having the time of my life. I am retired from Dallas ISD as a Curator of the Native American Cultural Heritage Center and as an Art Teacher teaching students from k.-12 grade. I have one son who is active duty in the Marines. He has blessed me with 3 grand children. Every summer since 2000 l have back packed over western Europe and Northern Africa. I am used to Euro Railway passes and youth hostels. I look forward to this trip and meeting all of you. As Curator I had a letter in my mail box from a young student from Stockholm which was addressed to an lndian boy in Texas. We became pen pals and friends. My tribe is Cherokee and Delaware while my family is from Tahlequah in North Eastern Oklahoma which is the Capital of the Cherokee Nation.


Gerry Arens and Isabella Iverson: Dallas,Texas – Gerry will be 79 and Isabella will be 74 during 2016. Gerry has been retired for 20 years and Isabella continues her holistic healthcare practice operating from our home. We met in Thailand on our first trip with Sandy and have been on 12 52Best tours in years past, the most recent Italy. On Sandy’s 2008 trip to Australia, we were married. We’ve enjoyed these trips immensely and are looking forward to the Scandinavian trip this fall. Gerry has a son and a daughter, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Gerry’s hobbies include fishing on the annual trip to Saskatchewan, Canada, hunting, golf, photography, travel and woodworking. Gerry received a BS-Business Administration degree from the University of Minnesota and was employed by a Big 8 CPA firm in Minneapolis for eight years and then by a saving bank in La Crosse. He became a Texas resident in September 2007 and will spend the summer anywhere but in Dallas. Isabella’s hobbies and interests, besides traveling, include: cooking and entertaining, photography, toastmasters, the Friendship Force, camping & kayaking and learning organic gardening. She has a son, daughter and one “precious” 13 year old granddaughter.

p-bischoffBrenda Bischoff: Pensacola, Florida – After working in the financial/banking industry for 21 years in Florida and Texas, retired and became a Motivational Speaker, Certified Life Coach, Certified Hypnotist, NGH Certified Hypnosis Instructor and a Realtor. Living and sharing her passion of personal empowerment, her practice is located in Pensacola, Fl. She is single, and has 3 grown daughters, Brandy, Corey and Kelly and 2 of the most adorable grandsons on the planet, Jack and Quinn! Brenda loves to travel, and does so at every opportunity. Brenda has been to the Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Egypt. This will be her second trip with this group having traveled down the Danube in 2012 and hopes to continue to explore new and exciting places throughout this planet!

Joe Blatnica: Wimberley, Texas – I’m a retired US Army officer as well as a retired hospital CFO. I reside in Wimberley, TX in the Texas hill country with my dog, Belle, a Shar-pei. I’m a widower, have 5 children and 12 grandchildren. I enjoy traveling and have traveled with Sandy to Greece, Argentina, Russia & Egypt and can say that I’ve been to all the continents including Antarctica. I have an MBA in Finance from Syracuse U. I addition to traveling & family, I enjoy working on my old car (a 1962 corvette), golfing, and fishing. I’ll eat almost anything and enjoy a good cold beer as well as a single malt scotch-preferably GlenLivet. I’m looking forward to seeing some old friends as well as meeting some new ones on this trip. See y’all soon.

Art.Bova2Art Bova: Albuquerque, New Mexico – Art is recently retired and enjoying every aspect of retirement. He and his wife, Breda, are world travelers and enjoy visiting, experiencing and learning from visiting the US & other countries and its peoples. He has had a long membership in the Albuquerque Foreign Relations Committee, in photography organizations in the US and other nations and has traveled extensively reaching the Century Club. He has enjoyed Sandy’s 52 Best with trips to Dubai-India, Christmas on the Rhine and this trip plus Sandy’s friendship along with knowing his fine children residing in Albuquerque. One of his other ventures that he enjoys are sports events and their excitement, success and remembrances.

p-coleCarolyn Cole: Dallas, Texas – I am a 69 year old avid traveler and am so looking forward to Denmark, Norway and Sweden! I like many things: entertaining, movies, eating out, gardening, making jewelry, doing altruistic work, and most of all being with family, friends and 5 grandchildren, all who are in Dallas. I am very spiritual, which means I believe in a very positive Christianity. I am looking forward to a great time on this trip and getting to know everyone better! Last year I went on the 52Best trip and loved my total Italian emersion.


Culwell150Diane Culwell: Dallas, Texas – I retired in 2013 having spent several years as a Training and Organization Development Manager for financial, telecommunications and aerospace industries. I currently do change management consulting. My favorite activity is playing golf. I belong to a singles golf group and we play at many of the courses around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I like to read, go to the symphony, travel, listen to live jazz, exercise, do yoga and East Coast Swing dancing. I attend my Methodist Church regularly and do volunteer work for the church such as Habitat for Humanity. I am known for my talent with a hammer and nails (ha!). I also volunteer for the Dallas Arboretum Botanical Garden. I am active in my Oklahoma State University Alumni Association-Go Cowboys! I have taken many wonderful trips to Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Turkey and Greece. My sister, Martha Schwanke and I have traveled together a lot. We look forward to the Best of Vikings trip-our first one with Sandy.

p-elliottPaula Elliott: Brantford, Ontario, CanadaI grew up in Illinois, studied music at Oberlin College and New England Conservatory where I met my husband Tom, moving to Canada where we have lived since the early 60s. Having retired several years ago after 39 years as principal flutist with the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and teaching at McMaster University, I seem to be busier now than I ever was while working. Tom usually restricts his travels to those involving underwater activities, so I will be traveling alone this time. These days I spend a lot of time at the gym and pool, and also enjoy studying languages, reading, and scuba diving–in warm water only! I am looking forward to this journey very much, as the trips to Thailand, South Africa, Argentina, Europe, and Russia with Sandy’s groups were some of my most memorable experiences.

p-shoaf2Claire Harrison and Gerry Shoaf: Riverside, California – We have been married nearly sixteen years and love to travel. We’ve been to Greece and Turkey on our honeymoon, South Africa, Argentina, Kenya, and Eastern Europe, and Egypt with Sandy, Peru and China and did a self guided tour of Alaska. Claire is the Legislative Affairs Manager for the Eastern Municipal Water District, a large and very active public agency that provides water, wastewater and recycled water services to over 500,000 people over a 555 square mile hot growth area in Southern Cal; Gerry is a water lawyer and represents Eastern and other water agencies in Southern Cal. In addition to travel, we like skiing, biking, yoga and fitness and one of us likes old sports cars.

Marcie.HiebschMarcia Hiebsch: Garland, Texas – Hello, my name is Marcia (pronounced Marsha). We will worry about the pronunciation of my last name later. I grew up in Wichita, Kansas. In 1984 I graduated from Kansas State University and in 1986 I moved to the Dallas area. Four years ago I retired from teaching and promised myself I would travel before starting a second career. This will be my first trip overseas. I am very excited not only about the trip, but about making new friends, and what I can learn about traveling in general.


Huffhines2Allen Huffhines: Dallas, Texas – Pictured at one of our many scenic spots on last year’s Best of Italy Trip, Allen is married to his high school sweetheart Linda and have been married 58 years. They have two children and two grandchildren all living in Dallas. Allen is an SMU grad, has been retired for 17 years after selling his steel fabricating business after 42 years. His interests are managing the family investments, physical fitness, advancing conservative Constitutional causes and serving his Lord, Jesus Christ.


LimWu150Florence Lim and Eugene Woo: Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada – We will be travelling with 52Best for the very first time this year and are looking forward to it. We have been married for 28 years and have two children, Matthew and Sharina. Matthew is currently working in San Francisco and Sharina will be starting her second year at University of Toronto this fall. Eugene is co-founder of e-Magic Inc, a company specializing in the Integration of Building Process Automation and Energy Management Systems, and Florence has been employed at The Hospital For Sick Children, Toronto for over 20 yrs in the Healthcare IT Industry. We are both from the Far East – Eugene is from Hong Kong and Florence is from Malaysia but have lived in Canada since our late teens and love it. Eugene enjoys skiing, walking/hiking and badminton. Florence’s hobbies include paper crafting, crocheting, beading and hanging out with her 3 dogs with Miles being the Morkie, Muche the Malshi and Ella the Yorkie.

UrhammerKaren MacKesey and Ron Urhammer: Laguna Vista, Texas – This is the second 52Best trip for us as we traveled to Greece in 2004 with the group. Both of us are from Wisconsin and relocated to Laguna Vista, Texas, at the beginning of 2005. Ron retired from Ford Motor Company in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2002, and Karen worked there until they moved. As of this year, we have been married for 24 years. One of our caveats of moving was to find a place with warm weather, water and a golf course. Ron takes advantage of the weather, as he is an avid golfer and cyclist. Karen enjoys reading and just plain putzing around. Upon recently downsizing for the second time since retiring, they have decided to step back into the “roaming the globe” mission.

Martin150Karen Martin: Keller, Texas – I’m a short red headed German Scott Irish woman, 5th generation Texan. Grew up in Comanche, Texas, on horseback chasing armadillos, skinned rattlesnakes & loved the rodeo! Have lived in Keller, Texas for 19 years and have been very active in my community and church. Graduated from Tarleton State University, the better part of the A&M system (sorry but we’re required to say that) and have worked as an estimator with an insurance re-construction contractor and then as a field property claims adjuster for a major insurance carrier. Was married once for 13 yrs and have been single for 36. Have 3 children, 6 grandchildren, and yes… 2 great grandchildren, you can say I’m been busy for all my 69 years. Retired 5 years ago and have had intentions of traveling but just never got around to it. So I finally met someone who put me in touch with Sandy, and I’m so excited to go on this trip. Just sorry I didn’t find out about you guys when you went to Ireland and Scotland, which is my dream trip I will be making as soon as possible! Looking forward to crossing that ocean, meeting all of you and having fun sightseeing and experiencing the world!

onufrakCarole and Jim Onufrak: Carrollton, Texas – Transplanted from Michigan in the 70’s. Both of us are retired, Jim from IBM after 38 years, Carole from massage therapy working for the state of Texas, and as a school crossing guard. We enjoy wilderness camping, bicycle riding (last big trip was 150 miles), snow skiing and spending time with our family. We have 2 children and 7 grandchildren.



it-Pompeii-smallSandy Pofahl: Dallas, Texas – The 52Best stories are my primary hobby which has grown from 250 friends 15 years ago to 20.000 friends today in 90 countries – some I have met and some I have not. This is the 19th 52Best trip which I have arranged beginning in 2000 with a trip to China in which 14 of us ran the Beijing Marathon. I have four older “kids” and four grandsons that live in New Mexico and New York. I am active with real estate investments as well as a venture capital investment that benefit the deaf and veterans. Both my Golden Retrievers passed away this last year – ouch – and I now have a new fur friend who is also a Golden by the name of Patton – or Patty for short when he gets into trouble.

Katy.SchulzKaty Schulz: Houston, Texas – Katy is a CPA currently working for a privately owned business in Houston. She has spent most of her life in the New Orleans area and only recently relocated to Houston. Katy comes from a family of five siblings, who have fifteen children (three of her own), and thirteen grandchildren (none yet are Katy’s). This large family group is a big part of her life. Katy loves to travel and usually finds the time for a couple of big trips each year. Katy has never been to Denmark, Norway or Sweden before and is looking forward to the trip. (Picture to the left is Katy and her daughter – Katy is on the right.)

Schwanke150bMartha Schwanke: Ponca City, Oklahoma – I live with my husband Steve on our farm and ranch in northern Oklahoma. We have been married 33 years. I am a retired school teacher. We have one son Ryan who works with my husband. I enjoy exercising, reading, and traveling. I also volunteer with my women’s group at church. My sister Diane Culwell and I have taken many wonderful trips together. Looking forward to this Scandinavian adventure.



Terri Shepard.HeadTerri Shepard: Carrollton, Texas – I retired last year from State Farm after working as an adjuster for just under 23 yrs. I currently babysit for my 1 yr old granddaughter, who is the youngest of seven, 2 boys and 5 girls. I love to travel and it’s wonderful that I found a group that loves to travel as much as I do. I took my last trip with Sandy 2 yrs ago when we went to Ireland and Scotland. It was a wonderful trip and I’m sure I will love this trip just as much!


Rehka Stebbings: New York, New York – Rekha was born and raised in India, studied at Agra University and later at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. She first came to the United States 25 years ago and has created a major firm in haute couture and top end bridal employing almost 300 people in New Delhi and several in her beautiful pent-house atelier showroom in New York’s fashion district at 7th and 37th. Her firm Rehka International Inc (note spelling) ( is widely known for achieving the highest quality beading and embroidery in the world. Her work is or has been used by most of the world’s foremost fashion designers. Michelle Obama has publicly worn two of Rekha’s creations under the name Jason Wu.

Terry.Thomas.150Terry Thomas: Trophy Club, Texas – I am 68 years young. I served in Pleiku, Viet Nam in 1968 and was evacuated to Japan where I spent 3 months over Christmas in the hospital. I was then returned to the parent unit in Nakhon Phanom Thailand for the rest of my time in South East Asia. We ran Search and Rescue missions for downed pilots and units that needed close air support. I returned to Ft Worth for the rest of my enlistment. I attended Dallas County Junior College and received my Associates Degree. I then was hired by the FAA as an Air Traffic Controller. I worked at Ft Worth Air Traffic Control Center for 8 years. I then went into car sales for a long time. I then went to a school and became an Aircraft Dispatcher. I worked at a time share aircraft company (Business Jet Solutions) then went to an air freight company and set up and ran a Crew Scheduling Department. I opened an Antique Mall in Keller Texas in 1998 and retired to run it. I am still in that business.

p-vollrath2Jean Vollrath: Rochester Hills, Michigan: My husband and I live north of Detroit and have been married for 40 years. I was born in Windsor, Ontario but spent all of my married life in Michigan. I am a self-employed commercial artist and started my studio in 1974 and retired in 2006. We have one daughter Megan who lives in Stansbury Park, Utah near Salt Lake City. She ended up out West when the two of us drove 5500 miles Michigan to Seward, Alaska to clean animals after the oil spill in 88. She never came back to Michigan and discovered a whole new part of the US. In 2006 my husband and I started Petwatchersplus, a pet sitting service caring for pets in our clients’ homes. I have always loved animals and we make it a point to plan vacations to unusual places to see the wildlife, especially birds. Some of our favorite trips over the years has included polar bears at Churchill, Manitoba, several trips to Alaska, South and Central America, Cuba and Australia. South Africa with Sandy was one of our best trips as was 2 Eastern Europe River cruises, Egypt, Peru and Italy. First class all the way.

p-wilsonBobbie and Lamar Wilson: Dallas, Texas – Lamar and Bobbie Wilson are traveling with 52Best for the eighth year having traveled to Russia, China, Kenya, Eastern Europe, Egypt, Christmas on the Rhine, and Ireland Scotland with the group. We met at Florida State University our Senior year. We have lived in Dallas since 1972. Have one daughter and three grandsons. Bobbie was born in Charleston, West Virginia and Lamar in St. Petersburg, Florida. We love music, art and sightseeing adventures.