Being ‘first’ is a theme in Judy White‘s life:  she was the first female member of the Wilton Rotary Club, the first (and founding) president of the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, and the original (and first) owner/president of Wilton Center Travel, Ltd., a full-service travel agency she started in 1978.

The agency is celebrating its 40 years in business at an event today, Thursday, Aug. 23 at 4 p.m., in their Wilton Center office (69 Old Ridgefield Rd.) with a gathering of customers and friends. White will be there with her daughter, Margaret Sanko, (pictured, R with mom Judy, L) a travel consultant at Wilton Center Travel, as well as other coworkers.

Also on hand will be Wilton’s three state legislators–State Reps. Gail Lavielle and Tom O’Dea, and State Sen. Toni Boucher–to present White with a citation from the State of Connecticut commemorating the agency’s 40th Anniversary.

Travel wasn’t White’s first profession, though.

“The first adult hat that I wore was a nurses cap. Graduated from Philadelphia General Hospital, worked several years as a R.N. and must admit it was an interesting profession, but something was missing,” she says.

What White was really looking for was something that offered more diversion, and expanded opportunities to learn, discover and share—all things that she found were possible when she traveled. Her first plunge into testing the waters of a new field was a summer job as a camp nurse at an athletic camp on a lake in the French Alps. She became fluent in French, and grew enamored with French cuisine and many other aspects of European culture.

White also caught the travel bug, as the camp was just 45 minutes by bus from Geneva, a gateway to the European Continent that made it easy to get around by bus, train and car.

Her husband, Frank, also loved to travel, and when he took a job with Pan Am airlines, White was able to do a lot more globetrotting.

“That made it much easier to get around—they flew everywhere! And so, I was able to see a lot of the world and the more I saw, the more I wanted to see. I loved to talk about it, delighted in planning trips which was fun because having been there it was easy to relive such pleasant memories,” says White.

She was able to marry that love of planning trips with work after moving to Wilton. At the time, there were six travel agencies in Wilton; she got a part-time job at one of them to learn the basics before opening Wilton Center Travel.

The things that set a travel agency apart is how highly personalized agents can make travel for the customer, says White. What makes the difference is the firsthand experience of a travel agent as well as the personal relationships they have with both their clients and local partners at the destinations.

“Agents have been there, done that and will give you the best advice on how to get the most of your trip,” White adds. The agency’s website notes that on-site inspections by their agents provide the basis for most of our Caribbean recommendations, and that collectively, Wilton Center Travel employees have traveled to more than 150 countries and lived in over a dozen.

Wilton Chamber of Commerce director Debra Hanson has worked with White for over 25 years.

It has always been a pleasure knowing and working with her. She is a dedicated professional but always takes the time to be involved with the community and organizations that support our community. In addition, Judy and her staff at Wilton Center Travel have guided me on many an adventure and their experience and expertise have always been enlightening and most helpful. Here and abroad they have directed me in every detail to enhance my travel experience,” she says.

White has her own favorite destinations right now. “Africa and Galapagos Islands have been tied for first place for many years—these are two destinations which I can guarantee you will come home a changed person; almost every aspect of their travel experiences affect you, from their geographical beauty, the special people living there, not to mention the incredible wildlife viewing opportunities that abound. My third favorite Is Croatia—to see what has become of the former Yugoslavia is so fascinating, beautiful and encouraging, it has even been referred to as the ‘next Tuscany.’”

Wilton Center Travel is located at 69 Old Ridgefield Rd.–just look for the familiar blue door.