Knightdale Parks and Recreation assistant Michelle Wester does a lot of work in the town, but she also helps plan and execute mystery trips for local seniors.
Q: You work as an administrative assistant with Knightdale Parks and Recreation, but that job entails some traveling. Explain how that works.
A: As an administrative assistant, I register people for trackout camps, summer camps. I help out with special events but in 2008, I began helping with the day trips and overnight trips for our seniors.
Q: So only senior citizens can go?
A: No, we had a kid that wanted to go with his grandma on a daytrip but it is usually just our seniors who go.
Q: What are the ages of the travelers?
A: Anywhere from 50s to 80s.
Q: What are some of the places you have visited on the daytrips?
A: On our daytrips, we go to some of the wineries in North Carolina. We have gone to the Rudy Theatre in Selma. We go to Southern Supreme Gourmet Specialties in Bear Creek – they make candies and fruit cakes. We just do all kinds of things. Sometimes we take mystery trips and they have no idea at all where we are going. They really enjoy those trips.
Q: But most adults are big planners and sometimes don’t like surprises. Are you sure you don’t tell them?
A: No. They don’t find out until we get there. Now sometimes I have some who try really hard to get out of me where we are going, or give them some hints, but I don’t tell – it has to be a surprise.
Q: Now what about some of the overnight trips? Where have you gone?
A: We have been to Nashville, Niagara Falls, Pennsylvania, Biltmore, New York City, Savannah, Memphis, Pigeon Forge. We usually stay a couple of nights. The longest time we have stayed somewhere is four or five nights.
Q: What has been the biggest hit for the overnight trips?
A: I would have to say New York City. They really did love New York and they keep asking when are we going back. We went to a Broadway show. We saw the Rockettes. And there have been other trips they really liked. They enjoyed touring Graceland (home of Elvis Presley) in Memphis and they liked the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. I enjoyed walking around Gaylord (Convention Center) there – I would like to do that again. But the biggest trip we have ever taken is coming up – Ireland. I am not going to be able to go on that trip.
Q: What do you do for transportation on these trips?
A: Knightdale has a bus and I drive it for the daytrips. When we go overnight, we charter a bus. When we get to our destination, a tour guide usually gets on the bus and points out some of the places of interest.
Q: Any crazy stories to tell, or unusual happenings that occurred on these trips? Did you see Kenny Rogers while walking around Nashville?
A: No, nothing like that, though that would be cool to run into someone famous. On our trip to Savannah, our air conditioning stopped working. That wasn’t fun. It was hot and we felt like we were all melting. They had to send us a new bus.
Q: How long have your been working with the town of Knightdale?
A: I came to Knightdale in 2002, but when I got here, I worked in the police department. Before that, I worked for the City of Raleigh, in the inspections department. I would issue building permits. I started working for them in 1994 and was there about nine years when I saw the posting for the job in Knightdale online.
Q: I bet there is a big difference in working for a town’s police department, and then going to work for the parks and recreation department?”
A: Oh yes. You would definitely see some interesting things at the police department, but it is interesting where I am now. I really enjoy it.
Q: Is this the kind of job you envisioned yourself in while in high school?
A: You know, I always wanted to work in the travel business. After I graduated high school in 1991, I took some classes with the Travel International agency. I worked full-time at a department store and would take classes in the evening. I even applied to work at American Airlines and work their ticket agency.
Q: What interested you about traveling?
A: Growing up, I never went anywhere. I always wanted to travel somewhere but I never did.
Q: Now traveling is a part of your job –it worked out for you?
A: I suppose it did.
Q: What other interests do you have?
A: Well, I like to do things with my church family – Cross Point Community Church in Knightdale. I like spending time with my kids (Samantha, 18, and Brad, 16). But you know, my daughter showed an interest in baking cakes. And keep in mind, I am not a cook at all, but I wanted to do that with her. We took some classes in June, and I kind of ran with it. I can bake and decorate cakes – who knew? I have made a couple for some people, and I had someone recently contact me about making their wedding cake.
Q: You must be pretty good. So you are also making wedding cakes now?
A: I don’t know. This is my first request for something like that. I am a little scared. Maybe I can do it (laughing).
Correspondent Dena Coward