One of the oldest, continuously operating businesses in St. Louis Park is Skads Travel. This longstanding business was established by Will Skadsberg, Sr., in 1955.
Back in the early days of recreational and business air travel, the airlines wanted to fill planes with the least amount of fuss and paperwork. They would accredit travel agents to check the schedules and issue tickets on behalf of the airlines. To be accredited, travel agencies had to show that there was enough of a population in the area. The files of Skads Travel contain many lists of businesses and statistics about St. Louis Park. Many of these materials had come from the Chamber of Commerce, and were used to show the airlines that there was a need for a travel agency in the area. Skads became the very first travel agency to become accredited in a Twin Cities suburb.
Will Skadsberg, Sr., was born in Norway in 1918 and emigrated with his family to Duluth at the age of 8. He graduated from the University of Washington. With a Duluth naval reserve battalion he saw action in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theatres in World War II. After the war he worked for American Overseas Airlines in several European countries. He also did stints as district sales manager for American Airlines in Minneapolis, and was a sales representative for Trans World Airline. His real ambition was to get into law, and he used his earnings to enroll in the Minneapolis-Minnesota College of Law (which merged with the St. Paul College of Law in 1956 to become the William Mitchell College of Law). Meanwhile, his wife Bonnie worked for Cargill.
In 1955 Will Sr. and Bonnie opened Skads Travel in the Lilac Way Shopping Center, located on Excelsior Blvd. and Highway 100, across from Miracle Mile. Built in 1941, Lilac Way was one of the very first of what would come to be called “strip malls” in the State. The location was chosen because it was at the busiest intersection in the State – and in those days it was an at-grade crossing. The anchor, of sorts, of Lilac Way was the Lilac Way Bowling Alley, with the associated Lilac Lanes Cafe. On the second floor were offices, and that is where Skads Travel started.
Then, as now, there was no charge to use the service to book travel. The agency’s income is derived from commissions paid to them by the airlines, hotels, and other services they represented. Customers purchased their transportation from Skads at the regularly published tariff rates.
Although Skads handled individual trips, it emphasized organized tours, often to exotic foreign lands. At the time, airlines restricted these types of tours to “affinity groups,” which were often church groups, civic groups, or other groups of people who were already known to each other. Airlines could not organize tours of people who did not know each other. The agency could book up to 800 people on tours, and even provide guides. Examples of large organizations that booked tours with Skads are:
- Suburban Newspapers
- Sons of Norway
- The Shrine
- Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance
- WCCO, with Dave Moore as host
- Super Valu Stores
- Control Data
- Coast to Coast Stores
- National Food Stores
After working at Northwest Airlines in Washington, DC, Will Sr. and Bonnie’s daughter-in-law, Kathy Skadsberg, started working at Skads in 1967. Their son Will Skadsberg, Jr. worked with Pan AM Airlines in Hawaii before joining the agency in 1970. Will Jr. and Kathy specialized in international and domestic golf trips, and created unique, custom itineraries that covered the globe.
THE AGENCY TRAVELS
In the 1980s Lilac Way was on its way to demolition and redevelopment, but Skads still had a lease, and Will Jr. says that the company stayed at the location until it was forced to move when the building was condemned. “We were actually the only occupants for about two years after the restaurant closed. It was spooky sometimes! There was only cold running water and the main building was not heated, so we used the electric heaters, which cost a fortune.”
In November 1987 the company moved to the Boulevard Professional Building at 6250 Excelsior Blvd. The building had been built in 1985; previously it had been a driving range and then a gas station.
Will Skadsberg, Sr. retired in 1983, and died in February 1994. His wife Bonnie, who worked at the agency from 1956 to 1999, died in 2012 at the age of 90. Kathy and Will Jr.’s daughter Jenny has worked there since 2002, making it a third generation St. Louis Park business.
Even in these days of online booking and travel websites, using a travel agency can be useful, especially when planning a trip to an unusual destination or one with many participants such as a family or club. Travel agents also have access to wholesale rates and specials, and can make choosing many options much easier. Skads can’t get you to the moon – although they considered the possibilities in 1960 – but the world is their oyster!