A self-professed nocturnal person, Jean Anne Hattler sometimes is up late reading the travel section of the New York Times and scanning the internet for travel bargains. She recalls one she came across in 1994: “For $900 out of New York, you could ski for seven days in Cortina, Italy, with lodging at a great hotel that I had checked out, and breakfast and dinner daily. And, it included airfare. This was one of those trips that I tell my husband, Brack, is ‘cheaper than staying at home.’”
Hattler mentioned the deal to a few friends, who mentioned it to their friends, who mentioned it to several sisters-in-law, and before long she was leading a group of 42 to Italy. She calls this her first “friends’ trip.”
Now working as the Cultural and Educational Travel Specialist at Duquesne University, Hattler has been to 60 countries on six continents and has organized and led 20 different groups abroad, either as part of her job or as her avocation. These include trips to New Zealand, Japan, China, Kenya, Hungary and the Czech Republic. She is often accompanied by her favorite traveling companion and husband, Dr. Brack Hattler, a heart and transplant surgeon at UPMC and co-founder of ALung Technologies, which produces the Hattler Respiratory Catheter.
In February, Jean Anne organized the 2004 Patron of the Arts Tour for a group of 16 to Rome and Vienna as a collaborative effort to cultivate donors to the Pittsburgh Opera and the Frick Art & Historical Center. Recognizing the dynamic created by an interdisciplinary approach, she says, “I love to bring people together and mix subjects. All of the elements of travel are heightened by people’s multiple backgrounds that bring multiple perspectives while on the trip.”
Mark Weinstein of Squirrel Hill, general director of the Pittsburgh Opera, recalls enjoying the private tour of the Sistine Chapel and dancing at the Vienna Opera Ball. “Jean Anne was able to provide access to things I have never been able to see. Our tour had the proper balance of satisfying our individual curiosities and just plain fun. There was a certain grace and beauty to the tour which I had not expected.”
And Bill Bodine, director of the Frick Art & Historical Center adds, “I suppose there’s a phone number which I could call and say I’d like to arrange a private tour of the Vatican, but I don’t know that phone number.”
That’s where Hattler comes in. The combination of her Oklahoma-born charm, graceful manner, beautiful smile, and unwillingness to take “no” for an answer makes the world open up to her. Only after she had promised the Opera and the Frick invitations to the Vienna Opera Ball, did she come to realize it was one of the hardest tickets to get in European social circles. She recalls thinking, “Oh my gosh, they’re ready to do it and I don’t know if I can get tickets to the Opera Ball!” So she made a phone call to the Austrian Consulate in New York, which eventually led her to the entrée she needed.
By now she’s probably heard “we have a little problem” in every language, but she finds herself energized by having to use her problem-solving and people skills in responding to unexpected situations. From the minor irritations of delayed luggage and overbooked hotels to having Carolyn Byham, a member of the 2003 Down Under Tour, slip and break both of her ankles during a torrential downpour on the Milford Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park, Hattler has built up a repertoire of travel experiences.
She is able to anticipate most of the potential logistical snafus by working closely in advance with travel agents and country specialists whom she has carefully evaluated based on service and pricing prior to engaging them. Locally, Audrey Alpern at the Alpern Travel Agency in Shadyside helped with the Patron of the Arts Tour as well as the recent Pittsburgh Opera/WQED Multmedia trip to the Santa Fe Opera in August; and Paul Busang, president of Gulliver’s Travels, also in Shadyside, is assisting in planning the 2004 Tsar’s Ball Tour to St. Petersburg and Sweden.
Hattler prefers to have the trip focused around what she refers to as a “centerpiece.” This might involve a physical, cultural, or social event. She and Brack have both been on Mt. Everest, at the Honolulu marathon, walked the Milford Track which peaks at 9,000 feet, and scaled the Sydney Harbour Bridge. For the millennium she organized activities for a group of 22 in the Galapagos Islands and danced into the new year at the 2002 Kaiserball in Vienna. This fall she’s doing the travel arrangements for 50 Duquesne University board members and friends who will be celebrating the opening of their new Rome campus. And friends of Jean Anne and Brack’s are looking forward to going on safari in Namibia in 2005.
But for her the experience of traveling also includes “what you do before you go and what you do after you come home.” In preparation for the ascent on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 1996, Annie and Bill Futrell of Fox Chapel and East Enders Mary Lou and Ish McLaughlin and Jacqui and Jeff Morby regularly climbed the Cathedral of Learning steps to get in shape. This had the added advantage of allowing everyone to bond before they had even left Pittsburgh.
Several months prior to the Opera/Frick Tour’s departure date, Christopher Hahn, artistic director for the Pittsburgh Opera, gave a lecture on the Elixir of Love, an opera they would see in Vienna. Bill Bodine presented a talk on Bernini, Borromini, and Caravaggio, focusing on the baroque art and architecture of 17th Century Rome. Opera singer and CMU voice instructor Susan Marsee and dance teacher Mario Melodia led lessons in the Viennese waltz at The Pittsburgh Golf Club. And it is normal for groups to want to reunite afterwards for a lively evening celebration to share fun memories and exchange photographs, as they did one evening at the Shadyside home of Cindy and Bill Swartz.
Not only does Hattler have vivid memories of each trip, but each room in her Shadyside home is accented with numerous objets des voyages. She particularly likes masks, and she points to some on the wall in her living room from Japan, Bali, Mexico and northern Thailand. “I also love chairs,” she admits. She must, because somehow she managed to bring home, on the plane, sets of chairs from both Costa Rica and Egypt.
When asked what it is about traveling she likes
so much, this National Geographic Society trained educational consultant responds, “I love it because it combines the things that I’m really passionate about and for which I feel I have some expertise. I love to learn, so it feeds my intellectual appetite for places and cultures. And I really enjoy people. I enjoy people of all ages.” Hattler believes travel is transforming and “changes the way you look at the five o’clock news.” By leading the groups herself, she gets to witness that moment of transformation firsthand. One of those moments was when Bill Bodine walked into the Sistine Chapel during the private tour. Though he had seen Michelangelo’s ceiling and wall paintings 15 times before in his life, he realized he had never seen the floor because of all the other people that were normally there. “To be able to go in and have it be quiet and to contemplate it,” Bill says, “was a completely different experience.”
Hattler has been combining people and travel since teaching school in Japan in the 1970s. In the 1980s she set up homestays in Colorado for Japanese students and guided a group of 25 high schoolers to Washington D.C. for the organization People to People, prior to leading them through western Europe in 1985. After moving to Pittsburgh in 1989, she started organizing groups of college students, the first being a January interim session trip to Scotland for Chatham College juniors.
“Then,” she says, “I got into the serious mode of planning trips.” Teaching multi-cultural education and regional geography at Duquesne University led her naturally to taking students to China, Costa Rica, Belize and Australia. Now working part-time at Duquesne, she has more freedom to plan trips for the arts organizations she and Brack have loved supporting and to arrange trips with friends.
The next phase is yet to unfold, but Hattler senses she’s close to making the transition from avocation to vocation. “I know there’s a market,” she says. “But growing up in an educator family, as the daughter of a minister and elementary school teacher, it’s always been kind of a service world to me. So it’s not as easy a transition in terms of a business. But it certainly would fit in terms of personality and interests.” She says it’s just a matter of deciding on the best way, but she may have to put out her shingle sooner rather than later. Recently she has been receiving calls from friends requesting her help in planning their family trips abroad.
She remembers fondly her days of traveling in Europe on $5 a day with a college roommate. (She actually carried the book in her backpack.) Her trips today tend to be at the other end of the budget scale, but it might be worth it to live for just a moment in a fairy tale. Shadyside neighbor Sibby McCrady remembers the evening at the Kaiserball. “We had just arrived and Jean Anne was in the most beautiful midnight blue gown. We were having our group photograph taken on the incredible staircase of the Hofburg Palace and a count came over to Jean Anne and asked her to dance. I saw them walk towards one of the ten different ballrooms as the orchestra played the Viennese waltz. She was such a shining light.”
As she casts both her smile and her charm around the world, Jean Anne Hattler surely transforms the lives of those who follow her star.