Moving East: The Magic of our Face of America Journey Continues

By Tony Mussari

Photographs By Kitch Loftus Mussari

In the past week, Kitch and I have been temporary residents of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri. Driving through each of these states, we were mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty of the mountains, the forests and the Plains.  Wherever we went, we snapped hundreds of pictures of towering snow-capped mountains and picturesque valleys that stretch as far as the eye can see. Around every bend in the road, we found scenes that demanded our attention and images that radiated positive energy. The natural beauty of these states is awesome, captivating and majestic.

As we drove through the mountain passes, we thought about the courage and determination of the pioneers who crossed these mountains without benefit of the modern luxuries we enjoy.   

In Washington, we had a reunion with a former student, Dawn Gerken, at an animal shelter in Kent Station.

In Idaho, we spent an afternoon in Wallace. This quaint silver mining town of fewer than 1,000 people is a poster child for historical preservation.  Recently it was selected as one of the coolest small towns in America.  We had lunch at the Red Light Garage and we spent time with one of the architects of the town’s revitalization, Jamie Baker.

In Montana, we were mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty of the mountains. It’s hard to describe the feeling one gets when you realize that  Sacagawa led the Lewis and Clark Expedition through the Bozeman Pass with much more primitive equipment than our air conditioned and heated Prius. Again and again we talked about the courage, determination and accomplishments of the men and women who crossed these mountains during the infancy of our country.

In Utah, we had a wonderful reunion with Paul Swenson and the people who work at Colonial Flag.  Thanks to Paul’s friendship and kindness we had an unbelievable experience with 10 Olympians who gave America moments we will never forget at the Vancouver Olympics. It was a moment of patriotism and pride like no other we experienced on our journey.

In Wyoming, we were stranded by a horrible accident that closed Interstate 80 for 100 miles and swelled the population of a town appropriately named Little America. There we took advantage of a very bad situation, and we met men and women who live on the road as it were. These are the people who drive the big rigs. They provided us with an interesting insight into an essential part of our nation and its commerce. These are hearty, genuine people who speak their minds clearly and with conviction.

In Nebraska, we spent the night in North Platte.  Before we left, we visited Fort Cody. Then, we followed the route of the Pony Express. In Gothenburg, we visited a town that celebrates the heroism of the men who carried the mail to stations across the west from St. Joseph, Missouri, to San Francisco, California. It was another humbling moment as we thought about what they sacrificed to get the mail to the Pacific coast in ten days.

Today we are in Missouri at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout. This is a school known as Hard Work U. This is a school where opportunity, patriotism and spirituality meet. It is place where the values of the college are prominently displayed in one of the most impressive buildings on the campus, The Keeter Center for Character Education.

In a way, we traveled 7,000 miles to get here. In point of fact, we drove the longest distance of the trip to get here, approximately 690 miles in one day. It’s not what I promised my cardiologist, Dr. Joseph Briskie, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.

As of this afternoon, we have met a number of very impressive students. We interviewed Riley Webb, and we have arranged an interview with Stephanie Fitzgerald. Every student at this college works for the college 15 hours a week and one full week during each semester.  In return, the student pays no tuition.

When I asked Ian Sousan at the Summer Winds Resort Services Information Center at Main and Commerce in downtown Branson what he thought about Hard Work U, he was unequivocal in his praise.  It is a wonderful school, he told us, and we are proud to have it here. It represents all the right things.

We have a lot more to do here at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, and we will be writing about it in the days ahead.

For those who like statistics, these are the numbers:

We have been on the road for 28 days. We have driven 7,121 miles. We have snapped 10,000 digital pictures and we have visited 21 states.

Recently, someone asked me how I would describe what we are seeing. I replied: “America you are Big, Beautiful, Bold, Bountiful, and Benevolent.  Everywhere we go, we meet good people, caring people, kind people who are willing to help us. Everywhere we go we are amazed by the size of the country, the natural beauty of the country, the heroic courage of our ancestors who made this country what it is today.

If there is one enduring lesson we are learning, it is this. We have a solemn responsibility to make sure that the America of tomorrow is as beautiful in heart, mind and spirit as the America we were given yesterday.

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

Please keep us in your prayers and always know of our gratitude for your help, kindness and support.

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