If you’ve taken a Dartmouth Alumni Travel cruise to any of a number of European destinations, you may have seen them: three women of a certain age, clearly dear friends, animatedly participating in faculty lectures, avidly planning side junkets, inviting you as a fellow traveler to join the conversation, and chatting and laughing at the dinner table – possibly while wearing tiaras.
They’re Suzy Brennan, Peggy Cole, and Polly Jones. And they call themselves the Sunshine Girls.
Counting six Dartmouth Alumni Travel trips among them, the Sunshine Girls wholeheartedly embrace the role travel plays in our lives – to inspire learning, to spark chance meetings, and to create friendships.
It all started in 2006, when Suzy and Peggy, who’ve known each since elementary school in the Cleveland area and traveled together quite a bit, were looking for their next adventure. Suzy’s husband, John Brennan ’57, poked a Dartmouth travel brochure under her nose: Village Life along the Waterways of Holland and Belgium, departing in 2007.
“Hmmm…,” thought Suzy, and she called Peggy.
“We weren't sure we were ready for being herded from place to place while wearing a nametag,” Peggy says. “But we ended up loving the small group size, the people in the groups, the lectures, the places we visited, the various ships – everything! That first Dartmouth trip set the stage for all our future trips.”
Suzy recalls that the moment she stepped on the ship, she knew the Dartmouth tour was for her.
“Peggy and I each sat down with two other women” – one of whom was Polly – and within seconds, we were talking a mile a minute. I thought, This is going to be good."
And so she and Peggy brought on the fun. The trip dates spanned Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag), a national holiday in the Netherlands, and Peggy, the ever-prepared elementary school teacher, had packed accordingly. On the appointed day, she produced the royal accessories – tiaras for her and Suzy to wear while marking the occasion, bidding their cruisemates “Happy Queen’s Day.”
It took all day, but at dinner their fellow travelers got into the spirit, acting with great respect around the royal duo, bowing and scraping. Suzy, Peggy, Polly, and the others in their group had the time of their lives.
“Come the end of the trip, we’d enjoyed wonderful travel, enjoyable lectures, fabulous meals, and super companionship,” says Suzy.
To boot, although the tour operator had advised the travelers to “expect rain,” the weather turned out to be sunny and warm.
A sign, perhaps?
“Everywhere we went on that trip,” says Peggy, “people commented that we must have brought the sunshine.”
When they got home, she recalls, "We said, Let’s do this again!" The three stayed in touch and began planning their next Dartmouth Alumni Travel trip, a cruise on the Baltic Sea in 2008.
“We decided we needed a name,” says Suzy. “Something that captured our attitude to travel and bringing fun to our fellow travelers.”
The Sunshine Girls were born.
In addition to the Baltic trip, the trio has explored the islands of Greece and Turkey in 2009 and the Iberian Peninsula in 2010. It was on the Baltic adventure that they met faculty leader Susan Ackerman, Preston H. Kelsey Professor of Religion, and proclaimed her a member of the Sunshine Girls. This spring, Suzy and Polly joined a trip to Israel led by Ackerman.
The journey to Israel underscored for Suzy the value of traveling with expert faculty. “I came away with a much better idea of the lives of the people,” she notes, and since then she's been able to follow events in Israel much more closely. "The gaps in my education are filling in,” she says.
“The Sunshine Girls are an absolute delight,” says Ackerman. “They’re warm, friendly, gracious, and welcoming, which makes it easy to travel with them.”
They are also, she points out, not afraid to go the extra mile in pursuit of fun for themselves and their fellow travelers.
“The Sunshine Girls bring a zesty sense of adventure and even insouciance – in a good sense, not letting rules and conventions slow them down,” Ackerman says.
Want to see the special gallery that the museum normally doesn't have open? Fancy a drink on the terrace after the bar is officially closed?
"The Sunshine Girls always make these sorts of things happen,” says Ackerman. “They bring a touch of magic to every day.”
Dave Orsman is a freelance writer living in South Hadley, MA.