In 1956, Pete and Audrey Bursch purchased the Bus Depot Cafe in Alexandria. They found that their customers were not just looking for food, but were also looking to travel.
This prompted them to start selling bus tickets, then airline tickets, steamship tickets and then, vacation packages.
As a result of providing travel information and service to their customers, it led the couple to launch their own travel agency and within that same year of purchasing the restaurant, Bursch Travel was born.
And eventually, the travel industry outgrew the restaurant and the bus depot business and Bursch Travel became their sole business.
Taking over the business
Lara Deppisch, granddaughter of Pete and Audrey Bursch, said her grandpa saw the demand for getting to a specific place and that his vision led Bursch Travel to where it is today.
On Aug. 5, Fred Bursch, son of Pete and Audrey and second-generation owner of the company, announced that he is retiring and that Deppisch, his daughter, was being promoted to vice president of the company. He also said that she would eventually take over the business, making her the third generation owner.
Bursch grew up in the travel industry and spent his summers working for his parents. However, after he graduated from high school, he went to law school, graduated from law school, passed the bar and then he got a job working for a judge in Minneapolis.
But before too long, Bursch said his father told him he could use some help with the business and Bursch quit his job and began working for his father at Bursch Travel.
“I haven’t looked back since,” said Bursch. “I made the right choice.”
In 1977, the company was turned over to Fred Bursch, but continued to work with his father. Fred Bursch would become the president and CEO of the Alexandria-based company that now has offices in five states and about 80 employees.
Travel experience is changing
Deppisch said that when her dad took over the company, the options for and varieties of how people traveled really began to blossom. She said now, the company is seeing the next phase of evolution where people aren’t just about the places they are going to, but that they also want to know about and meet the people.
“It’s not just about going to Paris and standing in front of the Eiffel Tower,” she said. “Travelers want to meet the citizens, which might mean taking a cooking class with a local chef, shopping the back streets with somebody in the fashion industry or working with a farmer for the day to see how wine is really made.”
Making connections like that are more important than ever these days, said Deppisch, and yet planning travel has become more complicated than ever – even before COVID-19 restrictions were put in place.
There has been much growth and change in the travel industry over the years, especially with the advent of the internet, she added, noting that it will continue to change in the future. She said that Bursch Travel is full of real people who care and that they will put the places, perspective and people into the vacations that people are now wanting.
Deppisch said that keeping Bursch Travel in the family means that they can continue to contribute to the communities where their offices are located and provide jobs for the company’s outstanding employees.
“They have given so much of themselves to preserve our business over an especially challenging last year and a half,” she said. “I know I wouldn’t have this opportunity without their hard work so, for that, I will always be eternally grateful.”
Right time to retire
Bursch noted that he is fighting his fourth bout of cancer. In 2011, he had esophageal cancer. In 2014, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and then in 2016, he dealt with a diagnosis of urothelial cancer, according to his CaringBridge page.
Earlier this year, he received his first Stage 4 diagnosis, which was Stage 4 adenocarcinoma of the rectum with metastases in his bones, liver and lymph nodes. However, he is currently doing really well, he said.
This time around, he received chemotherapy and also is doing immunotherapy, which he said certain types of cancer are really receptive to.
“My cancer has pretty much disappeared,” he said. “It’s been a miracle, there’s no question about that.”
Despite this recent cancer diagnosis, Bursch feels great and said it was just the right time to retire as he has lots of places he needs to cross off his travel bucket list. Even though he plans to spend plenty of time traveling, Bursch isn’t done working quite yet. He will remain the chairman and will also work on a daily basis with his daughter on the behind-the-scenes day-to-day operations of the business.
“I will remain involved,” he said.
Deppisch said in the travel industry, her dad was jokingly called, “Mr. Alexandria” as he would do just about anything for the town.
“Between Theatre L’Homme Dieu, Rotary, Legacy of the Lakes and many other countless organizations over the years, he’s given back time and time again,” she said. “Yes, I’m proud to eventually take over Bursch Travel. But more than anything, I’m proud to be Fred Bursch’s daughter.”