Planes, trains and automobiles: Blount woman has seen all 50 states, looks to more adventures
By Melanie Tucker | (email@example.com)
Mary Helen Large’s traveling shoes could probably use some rest.
This Maryville woman who will soon turn 81 just completed a feat we should all aspire to — visiting all 50 states and enjoying every minute of the journey. Her last state to visit was Nebraska, which she took in just a few weeks ago. Alaska was before that, and her first state was Texas, where she was born.
Large said she never started out with this goal in mind, but a few years ago she and daughter Paula Jones began listing all of the states she has seen over the years.
The road to 50
“When she counted them up, she had already been to 42 of them,” Jones said. “Mom said ‘You know what, it wouldn’t take that much to see the rest.’ That’s when we started planning for it.”
This active senior who has enjoyed good health for most of her life has struck out on the road with a myriad of travel partners. She covered New England and fell in love with Boston with husband Jack by her side. They also ventured into New York City and the paradise known as Hawaii, among other memorable spots. Large has four daughters — Jones, Janie Connatser, Jackie Drake and Pat Hewgley — and each has shared an adventure on the road with Large. She’s also traveled with a sister-in-law who lives in Texas and other family and friends living all across the country.
Most times it begins with a phone call. “Want to go to Oklahoma with me?” Large might ask. The person on the other end just happens to have a great reason to say yes.
For Large, it’s hard to turn down the chance to see what she might never have seen before or go back where fond memories were once made. What’s not to love about that, Large wants to know.
Some might wonder why Nebraska was 50th on the list. Large said that wasn’t by design. She just never managed to get there, even when she was so close years ago.
“I had been within 50 miles of it on a previous trip,” she explained. “We were in South Dakota. My husband was ready to head home. When he heads for home, we go home.” And she was OK with that. It became a reason to take another journey.
Jack passed away almost five years ago. Large’s girls now serve as tour guides and companions whenever the travel bug bites.
History up close and personal
For this retired nurse, it’s all about discovery, intrigue and learning. She’s a huge history buff and manages to store away bits of trivia from each locale she visits.
That list of places includes Death Valley in California, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Hoover Dam, Zion National Park in Utah, The Corn Palace in South Dakota, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Grand Tetons in Wyoming, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, St. Louis, New Orleans, the Kentucky Derby, Mount Vernon and Monticello, Chicago and so much more. She even attended the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, N.M. That visit has inspired her to plan her own hot air balloon adventure in Asheville sometime in the near future. She already had it planned but the experience got canceled due to weather.
The memorial in Oklahoma City for the bombing victims left a deep impression in Large’s heart. And very near and dear to her is Texas history which can’t be told without mention of the Alamo in San Antonio, which is near where she grew up. Each state has its own unique story to tell. It’s all waiting for us, Large said.
“There is so much history out there,” she said. “I love history. I love going places. And I love museums.”
Jones recalls going out to South Dakota as a teenager and of annual trips to Texas. She said her mom always tried to get them to see what she saw and show interest in the places they visited.
With fresh eyes
“I appreciate these trips more now,” Jones said. “I can remember Mom always telling us, ‘This is historically significant. This is important historically.’ I see that now.”
Jones, in addition to traveling with her mom over the years, is a teacher at William Blount High School and takes students overseas annually. She likewise wants her students to take in the moment and use these experiences for both fun and learning.
So if you’ve never seen the gorgeous bluebonnets in full bloom in Texas in spring, or watched manatees interact in the Atlantic ocean, or buffaloes walk alongside your car in Yellowstone, or stood in awe at the awesome beauty of the Grand Tetons — Large wants to encourage you to blaze a trail.
“I try to tell people to go to all 50 states because they are so beautiful and they have so much to offer,” she said. If you have the opportunity — go.”