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Russ Wagenaar Celebrates 40 years with Paul Klein Travel

Russ was only 19 when he landed his first and only job interview at Paul Klein Travel.  With a freshly signed certificate from the Evelyn Echols Travel Agent School located on Michigan Avenue, he accepted the job as a Travel Agent.  When I asked Russ what his first year was like as an agent, he laughed out loud and  said, I did everything including the windows.  He answered the phones,  assisting the partners,  H. Juergen Krenzien and Chris Werth with anything and everything they needed and earned his wings as a true Travel Agent.

Russ, like most newly graduated teens, he really didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.  His mom heard of a Work Aptitude Test you could take at IIT in Chicago, to help you discover what your real passions were.  The results were quite surprising.  His tests revealed that he showed qualities relating to a Florist or Hair Stylist, which made Russ laugh uncontrollably because he is color blind and had no interest in either profession.  Guess the test forgot to ask that one very important question; Can you see color?

“Why the travel industry?” I asked.  He said, for the adventure.  He went on his first overseas trip with his German High School class and then flew independently to Venezuela in his Junior year.  He was interested in travel, but it wasn’t the true Travel Bug, some speak of.  After accepting the job at Paul Klein Travel, he gave this career 5 years, then he was going to move on to Computer Programming.  Russ said it was the hottest craze at that time, every one was becoming a computer programmer.    “Why are you still here 40 years later?” is the obvious next question.

It was Sabre.  In 1982 Paul Klein Travel purchased their first computer and started with the program Sabre, a Global Distributing System (GDS) allowing easy booking with hotels and airlines.  It was Russ’s two loves, travel and computers all in one place, so he stayed to further his desires across the globe and work with computers.

Russ’s fondest memories in this industry was working with Juergen Krenzien and Chris Werth.  Their knowledge and expertise was better than any book or brochure you could read.  Their relationships with vendors around the world was second to none.  Yes, he stayed because he loved this industry, and the benefits of seeing the world with style and class is something you just don’t walk away from.

After 10 years at Paul Klein Travel, Juergen’s son Tim came on board after graduating Denver U and working for four years with Hyatt Hotels.  This was a nice change for Russ since he was, by far, the youngest employee and it was great to have someone on the team who he could relate to, age wise.   Tim eventually bought the company from his father and promoted Russ to VP, which is his official title to this day.

During my interview with Tim, he was very nostalgic about the years he has known Russ.  “Being an only child, and working in a family business, Russ had become the brother I never had.  We have worked side by side and have grown this business together.  In this industry we have seen Airlines, Cruise Ships, Hotels and other Agencies come and go, but not Russ and I, we are still here and we still even like each other.”  Tim also commented on how Russ has been there for every great moment and all the dark times in the business.  “If you know Russ, you know he always wears a Bow Tie, it’s his signature thing.  On my Dad’s Celebration of Life Service, he walked in with a tie on, just like my Dad use to wear.”  Tim continued, “Not a lot of people would have noticed the tie, but I did,  and it touched me deeply.”

In honor of Russ, Paul Klein Travel, had a small reception at Hermes’ in Chicago with the Paul Klein Team and his family.  Russ was very thankful and loved that he could pick out a new bow tie to mark the occasion.  Afterwards, everyone headed over to Hugo’s Frog Bar for some great food and some of the biggest slices of cakes you may every see.

40 years is nothing to snuff at,  so we celebrate you Russ, for your dedication, your loyalty and your knowledge.  Now you are one of the travel experts you once were so fond of.  We believe the younger staff at Paul Klein Travel are as wowed by your knowledge as you were once by your mentors.

 

2 comments on “Russ Wagenaar Celebrates 40 years with Paul Klein Travel

  • Russ
    You are the very Best, with your unfailing good humor and willingness to help with all my issues and questions.

    I cannot imagine Paul Klein without you and your bow ties.
    Love
    Alex

    I cannot imagion Paul Klein without you

  • Bravo to Russ. I’ve only been with Paul Klein for a few years but, working alongside Russ has been a real pleasure.
    I’m
    Looking forward to the next 40 years.
    Mary

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