by Dennis Dalman
Vicky Knickerbocker says the more you travel, the smaller the world becomes, and she knows it well because she has traveled to countries on just about every continent.
Knickerbocker, a Sartell resident for 17 years, recently moved to Goodyear, Ariz. with her life partner, Roger. Although she is technically retired, at age 67, she is bursting with plenty of plans and many more miles to go.
She’s planning educational excursion trips to Iceland, a country she’s visited before and loves, as well as a trip to Spain and to Casablanca, Morocco in North Africa. Knickerbocker works for two educational touring companies: EF Tours and Explorica. People sign up for the tours, and Knickerbocker becomes their tour guide, helping them learn about faraway destinations.
She recently returned from trips to four European cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, London. Last October she went on a mission trip to Jamaica, the year before to Belize. Both of those were mission trips to help fit the local people there with badly needed eyeglasses. The Belize mission trip, coordinated by Sartell residents Marc and Sara Orjansen, was headed by Dr. Nick Colatrella and Dr. Stacy Hinkemeyer (Nick’s wife), owners and operators of PineCone Vision Center in Sartell.
Throughout the years, other educational tours have brought her and fellow travelers to Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Thailand and Malaysia. Often, her traveling companions were (and are) community-college students.
She has twice visited Rwanda, in central Africa, accompanied by fellow learners and author and peace educator Carl Wilkens. His book, “I’m Not Leaving Now” is a heartbreaking, harrowing account of three months of genocidal butchery that erupted while he was in Rwanda in 1994. The horrific conflict was a civil war between two warring ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi. Estimates were as high as 660,000 people killed, most of them Tutsi. The relentless, widespread violence was mainly perpetrated by the use of rifles and machetes. An estimated 250,000 women were raped and/or murdered in that country.
Wilkens, who is a lay minister, refused to leave Rwanda during the widespread mutual genocide. He and his Rwandan colleagues stayed there to help people, saving the lives of his handyman, his housekeeper and at least 200 orphans. Like Knickerbocker, Wilkens is a strong advocate of restorative justice and post-traumatic healing. He, Knickerbocker and others will take another learning trip to Israel next May.
Knickerbocker has been to Europe several times, accompanied by survivors of the Holocaust, which has long been a topic of expertise by Knickerbocker, who has taught Holocaust Studies in many colleges and other places. During Hitler’s reign of terror in World War II, millions of Jewish people were exterminated in Europe. The massive killings are collectively known as the “Holocaust.”
For five years, Knickerbocker was the outreach coordinator for the Center for Holocaust Studies on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. She has led many learning trips to the sites where Jews and other “undesirables” were killed en masse during World War II.
Born in Duluth, Knickerbocker graduated from Cloquet High School. She earned a degree in criminology and a minor in psychology from the University of Minnesota, Duluth. She also attained a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Since then, she went on to gain expertise in many other subjects.
One of her first jobs was as a school social worker in Aitkin County for two years.
She has been a much-honored teacher at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights until retiring in 2021. Before that she taught at St. Cloud State University, Central Lakes College (Brainerd) for 10 years and also at Southwest State University and the College of St. Scholastica. Among the subjects she taught were humanities, sociology, women’s studies and human services.
During and right after the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in February, 2020, Knickerbocker deeply missed in-person, face-to-face contact with students. So, missing contact with people, she decided to work at Macy’s in St. Cloud’s Crossroads Center for two years as a seller of jewelry.
After her “retirement” (so-called), Knickerbocker has kept in touch with students, fellow travelers and colleagues. For example, she donated her immense collection of documents, photos and artifacts about the Holocaust to the St. Cloud Technical College – to Kathy Robinson, who teaches Holocaust Studies. Robinson, in turn, passed some of that material to other teachers. Many of those materials Knickerbocker gave to Joy Sjoberg, who helped organize a special place in the St. Cloud Technical School’s library’s room dedicated to Holocaust Studies.
Even now, in Arizona, Knickerbocker is as active as ever. She recently reached out to an activities director in a retirement community to introduce learning opportunities centered on cultural topics, travel, the broadening of perspectives and issues pertaining to social conditions and civil rights.
“Learning is lifelong,” she said during an interview with the Newsleaders. “It’s important to keep one’s mind active and to keep dreaming of what you want to do.”
Knickerbocker has scheduled three overseas trips for 2024-25. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to do so.
In September and October of 2024, she will lead a trip to Israel, which includes a four-day “stay behind” side trip to Petra. Author and human-rights educator Carl Wilkins will be along on the trip as a commentator, guest speaker and discussion leader. To learn more about that travel opportunity, visit the following website: explorica.com/Knickerbocker-5596.
An eight-day trip to Iceland to see spectacular displays of the “Northern Lights” will take place from Sept. 28 to Oct. 5, 2024. To find out more, see the following website: grouptoursite.com/tours/iceland-and-northern-lights-with-vicky-knickerbocker.
In May 2025, a trip will take place to Spain, Morocco and Casablanca. It is slated to start on May 21 and end on May 29. To learn more, visit the following website: exploric.com/Knickerbocker-9691.