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Willie and Evelyn Hubbard delightfully look back on more than two decades of crisscrossing the nation with a tour group that has become more like family to the Orangeburg couple.

The Land Cruisers have traveled to every state in the Union except for Alaska and Hawaii, along with several trips to Canada. But it all started with Evelyn’s desire to visit California. She has been planning summer tours for the group ever since.

The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington, Old Faithful in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota are among the sites the tour group has visited, along with trips to New York’s Broadway District and Washington, D.C.’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Hubbards are also staunch supporters of the South Carolina State University football team, also planning and hosting trips to the football team’s away games. To the couple’s knowledge, they have only missed one away game since they started the trips in the early 1970s.

‘It’s been a joy’

Evelyn said the trip to California was the springboard for the planning of annual summer trips.

“We started out because I always wanted to go to California. And our driver, Perry Freeman, was doing a trip that year with a guy out of St. Stephens, Isaac Perkins. So we kind of got together. I said, ‘Well, Perry, I’ve never seen California.’ And he said, ‘Well, Ms. Hubbard, let’s do it.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine,’” she said.

“I know that was at least 20 or 25 years ago,” Willie said.

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The group originally started out as The Trippers before their name change in the early 2000s.

“We started from that year we went to California. We had probably about 25 people that year. It was a great tour. So then after that, we would plan a trip every year. We would sometimes have 96 people traveling with us. It just grew and blossomed,” Evelyn said.

Most of the group is made up of individuals who have either gone to school with the Hubbards, or grew up in the same neighborhood as them.

“I never advertised in the paper. It was only word of mouth because sometimes when you advertise, you pick up people who may not be good for the group personality-wise. So I found it to be better if everybody just tell somebody, and that’s how we’ve done our trips  every year since. It’s been a joy,” Evelyn said.

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Willie said, “It’s very enjoyable and most of us that go knew each other even in high school. We’ve got a lot of new people, too, including some people out of Charleston, Columbia,” and those from as far away as Georgia, Florida and New York.

He added, “We have movies on the bus and Perry has some of the best music to listen to in the world. We can ride and listen to music all day long.”

Evelyn enjoys planning the trips.

“I can’t type fliers, but I got my daughters who would type them up for us. I used to mail our fliers before the email. Back then, I didn’t know nothing about email. Everybody didn’t have an email address, so I would just buy a postage stamp and mail them to the group, and then they would tell somebody,” she said, smiling.

The couple said visiting various cities across the nation, including Las Vegas, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Memphis, Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, has been fun and exhilarating, much better than flying.

“This is a beautiful country. People talk about wanting to fly, but they miss what the United States has to offer. We’ve had some amazing and beautiful trips,” Willie said, noting the group has visited “gorgeous” cathedrals during Canadian trips, which have landed them in Montreal, Quebec and Toronto.

Evelyn said, “It’s really something that just kind of unreal. We get tour guides to show us around because we usually don’t know anything about the places. I set up tours for certain days that we’re there. We stay two or three nights in one place, and we’ll have a guided tour of their cities.”

Willie said, “We went across the Pettus Bridge in Alabama and have also stayed on Beale Street and went down to B.B. King’s restaurant that he has down in Memphis.”

The Edmund Pettus Bridge, now a National Historic Landmark, was where voting rights marchers were violently confronted by law enforcement personnel in 1965 on a day that became known as Bloody Sunday. Beale Street, considered the heart of music and entertainment in Memphis, Tennesee, is where B.B. King’s Blues Club is located.

“We’ve done all the places you can basically name. We’ve toured the White House and have done all the museums there in Washington, D.C.,” Evelyn said.

Willie added, “We went to a ski resort in one city during the summer time, and there was still snow on the top of the mountains. It was beautiful. Like I said, I ain’t flying nowhere. When you’re riding and going through mountains and stuff, it’s just breathtakingly gorgeous.”

‘We’ve had some good times’

The Hubbards said while they haven’t had any family members on the S.C. State football team, they consider it important to support the team.

“We’ve been to just about to every away football game. A guy would tell us, “You know what? People don’t come to the games. I’m gonna get Ms. Hubbard to load the bus and bring their group,’” Evelyn said, laughing.

“Ninety percent of the people do both the summer tours and the football games. We have a few of the people that travel on the summer tours that really don’t like football. But most of them do both. So we have the same group 99 percent of the time doing both,” she said, noting that she’d have three or four buses that would travel down to, for example, the Atlanta Football Classic.

Willie said, “One time they had two games. There was one at Texas A&M and another one in College Station, Texas. They were one week apart. We stayed out there the whole week. It didn’t make sense to come back home and then go right back out there. We went by the Alamo and stuff like that. We’ve had some good times.”

Freeman, the Hubbards’ longtime bus driver, said he enjoys the friendly, family-like atmosphere surrounding all of the trips.

“We got a fun-loving group and it’s all about family and taking care of each other. When somebody’s sick, we take care of them. It has been wonderful,” Freeman said.

“It is more of a close family than a group of friends. It’s been excellent with them. I never really thought that I was working. I’ve had so much fun and have just been respected by the people that you’re with. They always act like they’re on vacation. We’ve done 48 states and have been pretty much all over Canada,” he said.

Orangeburg County Councilwoman Deloris Frazier said Mrs. Hubbard’s pleasant attitude and demeanor has been a major catalyst in the success of the trips. She said Evelyn knows just about everyone by name.

“She can call them by name. She’s a people person. We have a wonderful time and we thank God for Evelyn,” Frazier said.

Evelyn said the bus is often transformed into different sections, with one portion affectionately known as “the ghetto.” She said that is a boisterous section where Frazier is located.

“We turn the back of the bus into a juke joint,” Frazier said.

Evelyn said longtime Land Cruisers member Charles Guess would hardly miss a trip and would make his favorite seat in the very back of the bus. She and other group members recently visited him at a local Orangeburg nursing home.

“The back seat of the bus was his spot. He controlled the back and then Deloris has an area back there called the ghetto. My daughter made a sign that they would put across so many seats up front on the bus. You couldn’t get in the ghetto if you didn’t have a ticket. They would have fun back there. We’ve had some good, good times,” Evelyn said, laughing.

Linda Badger has also been traveling with the group for a long time.

“I have been traveling on summer tours since retiring in 2004 and on football trips since 1975,” Badger said.

“I like traveling to the East Coast to the West Coast. We have visited some unusual places like Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. We would ride the bus round and round the mountains and be staying in a ski resort lodge with two king-size beds,” she said.

Badger said the group is a family and “support each other on lots of other occasions like weddings, graduations, funerals, etc.”

Some of Badger’s favorite destinations have included a football game in Colorado Springs and a visit to The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Groom, Texas.

“We have also seen plays on Broadway, including ‘Fences’ and ‘A Trip to Bountiful,’” Badger said.

“Through my travels with family and the Land Cruisers, I’ve visited 49 of the 50 United States. Alaska, here I come – hopefully in a few years,” she said.

“We said we were going to do Alaska one year, but that one never materialized,” Evelyn said, but that’s not going to stop the 75-year-old from traveling.

This year’s summer tour will take the group to Noah’s Ark in Kentucky. Dubbed the Ark Encounter, it is a full-scale Noah's Ark attraction and theme park which opened in 2016 in northern Kentucky.

“It’s been an awesome run. I told them I gotta travel before I’m not able to travel,” Evelyn said.

With a smile, Willie, 76, added, “Right now I got one foot on a banana peel and the other one in the grave. So I’m gonna keep moving so death won’t catch up with us.”

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Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow "Good News with Gleaton" on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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Staff Writer

Dionne Gleaton has been a staff writer with The T&D for 20 years. She has been an education reporter, regional reporter and currently writes features with an emphasis on health.

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