Imagine taking the road trip of a lifetime to reconnect with family. This woman made it happen.

When you think of road trips, the first things that probably come to mind are awesome playlists, random snack stops, and whether your Subaru will make it all the way there (don't worry, it will).

You might not think of somebody like Marcia Orland, who hit the open road this summer after her 76th birthday.


Marcia Orland with a picture of herself as a child growing up in Warsaw, New York, and with a map of her trip. Image by Pam McComb Podmostko, used with permission.

She wasn't just looking to visit antique shops and disconnect for a while. The trip was a way for her to reunite with relatives she grew up with in the upstate New York town of Warsaw, an hour's ride east of Buffalo, and capture their childhood memories and family stories.

“I hadn't seen my cousins in 50 or 60 years, and I realized if I didn't do it now, the stories would be lost forever," Orland said.

She hunkered down in her home in Summerland, California, a beach town near Santa Barbara, and mapped out a 37-day road trip to visit her cousins, who were spread out throughout the country from Tucson, Arizona, to Fairport, New York.

Marcia connects the dots. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

In preparation for the trip, she started a GoFundMe campaign to help with the cost of the hotel stays, food, fuel, and the Toyota Prius she rented (by the end of the trip she had raised $5,500 of the $6,950 she requested).

Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

The packing was relatively light: She took two suitcases of clothes, an iPod and laptop, CDs of family photos, digitized old family films, and a cooler for water and snacks.

Along with the provisions, she also packed two video cameras (she mounted one on the dashboard), a tripod, a microphone, and four external hard drives. Orland has been a personal historian for 11 years, which means she helps families tell their stories in video and print form. Now she's applying those skills to her own life — she plans to make a documentary about the trip.

Capturing the trek with a dash cam. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

By the time she left on Aug. 2, she was excited.

“I had been looking forward to the trip for so long, I was happy to finally start it," she said. “I had originally had the idea for the trip in 2010, but life kept getting in the way. As I was leaving, I realized I was accomplishing something fun and meaningful, and I felt proud."

On the journey, Orland was hoping her cousins could tell her more about her parents and her aunts and uncles.


Marcia and her cousin Bill Embury in Lee's Summit, Missouri. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

She wanted to learn things about their early years in Warsaw and gain more insight into their family dynamics.

Her cousins confirmed and added to the memories she had. “We talked about the simplicity of the times we grew up in, the feeling of being safe in spite of World War II going on, and the relaxed small-town atmosphere," said Orland.

Marcia and another cousin, Diantha Heitmiller, in Richmond, Virginia. Image via Marcia Orland, used with permission.

Along the way, she also encouraged people to save their own family stories (as a good personal historian must do!).

To accomplish this, she posted clips of her travels on Facebook (#FindMarcia) and held “show and tell" events, where community members in the places she visited shared stories about heirlooms, mementos, and precious objects.

Orland originally became interested in helping people preserve their memories after her parents died just a few weeks apart in 2004. She founded her company, Afterglow Media, the same year, with the goal of helping others preserve their histories.

As for people interested in creating their own epic family history road trip, she recommends having a plan and preparing as much as possible, but to expect the unexpected.

“For instance, at one personal history 'show and tell' event that I hosted, I noticed a 13-year-old boy sitting at a nearby table listening to the stories being told by the adults," she said. “I asked him if he'd like to join us, and he eagerly did. When the participants realized how much the stories meant to him, it did more to inspire them to continue personal history conversations with their own families than anything I could have said to them. It was a wonderful moment."

You can watch Marcia Orland talk about her trip here:

Sometimes it's not about the destination, but the memories we form along the way.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!