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For travel guru Richards, it's always nice to come home

June 22, 2005|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Art Richards

Age - 66.

Occupation - Owner and president of Richards World Travel.

Hometown - Hagerstown.

Where would you see Richards? - While his name is synonymous with travel in the local area, Richards was thinking more about a career with numbers than travel.

After studying accounting for two years at Hagerstown Community College, the Hagerstown native took a part-time job as a bookkeeper at a travel agency, the beginning of a long career in travel. Richards World Travel recently celebrated its 30th year in business.

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After becoming full-time bookkeeper at the travel agency, Richards got more involved with the sales end of the business and in the late 1950s, he joined several associates who started Hagerstown Travel Center, which had five offices in Western Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

In 1974, he opened Richards World Travel and today has two offices, one in Hagerstown and one in Martinsburg, W.Va. Richards feels blessed to be able to say he's been in the travel business for his entire career.

"I love helping people put dreams into action," he said, whether it's 50th anniversary trips, planning a honeymoon or a family vacation. "The satisfaction level in this job is very high."

A graduate of the North High class of 1956 - the last class to graduate from the old school when it was on Potomac Avenue - Richards never dreamed that he would one day own the Valencia building, the site of his business. The Val, as it was known back then, was a soda fountain across the street from the school and was a popular hangout for students.

His one frustration is that even after detailed planning, he can't control everything when a customer travels - from overbooked hotels, delayed or canceled flights or a ticket agent having a bad day.

When Richards started in the business, there were no computers and travel agents relied on printed time tables to schedule trips. They had to mentally know which airline flew from Point A to Point B, Richards said.

"We've come a long way, of course" he said.

In addition to computers, the Internet has become a factor in the travel business, but Richards said many travelers are leery of making travel plans over the Internet because there are sometimes hidden costs and often no one to call if there's a problem.

For the past 20 to 25 years, his agency has specialized in group travel, something that appeals to older travelers in the area. It means they won't be traveling alone, don't have to worry about how to get to the airport, having to handle their own luggage or the details of the trip.

Cruises, class reunion trips, and trips for specialty groups - such as the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, the Shriners and Hagerstown Community College's continuing education program - are also part of Richards' business.

Over the years, Richards and his wife of 35 years, Connie, have had the opportunity to travel around the globe.

"That to me has been the most wonderful thing, all the places I've been," Richards said. "It's made me a better person, opened my eyes, made me want to help people locally - to see the poverty in the islands and realize how blessed we are."

The desire to help others is evident in how Richards gives back to the community - as one of the founders and a board member of Dream Come True, a local organization that helps sick children in the Tri-State area; as founder of Children In Need Inc., which provides clothing, school supplies and personal care items to children who have been referred from their schools; and as co-founder with his wife of Marriage for Life Ministries, a marriage enrichment program.

The Richards', who have lived on Fountainhead Road for 25 years, are members of Zion Assembly of God Church in Maugansville.

Hobbies - Richards enjoys working in the garden, which features 400 tulip bulbs they brought back from Holland. He plays an occasional round of golf, but spending time with his family - a son, daughter and four grandchildren - is his top priority. He and Connie also adore their two poodles.

"The important thing in my life is what I leave my family. More than material things, it's the good name, trust and faith in God," Richards said.

What does Richards like best about Washington County? - Even with all the exotic places Richards has visited - he said his favorite trip was an East African safari - he said he always welcomes the sight of the valley on the return trip home.

"I like to go away, but I always like to come home," Richards said. "There are a lot of pluses to living in a small town."

He likes that people look out for each other and thinks it's a great place to raise a family because of the friendliness of the community and accessibility to big cities.

The Richards' also own a home in Naples, Fla., and their goal is to spend four to five months in the winter there.




If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail janeth@herald-mail.com.

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