Silverthorn prepares to depart the VCB
Leaving a month shy of 10 years at Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau, Executive Director Kathy Silverthorn said she is excited about a new adventure in Lake Havasu, Arizona, but grateful for a decade of greeting visitors and making local connections here.
“It’s overwhelming, the kindness that has been shown to me,” Silverthorn said about making her announcement to move south.
Silverthorn will be the director of events recruitment for the Convention Bureau in Lake Havasu, which has been a prime vacation spot over the years for her with the palm trees, vibrant blue waters and surrounding mountains.
The move also will be a welcome reprieve from the Midwest winters, she said. Growing up in Fairmont, Minnesota, Silverthorn has endured her share of cold Minnesota weather. With arthritis pain especially difficult this past winter, the job offer came at the right time.
Silverthorn met the current Lake Havasu CVB executive director at a conference, and he was the one to call her about the director of events opportunity. Following the interview, she was offered the position before even leaving the city, she said.
With 16 years of VCB experience and a certification in destination management from the Destination Marketing Association International, Silverthorn is a well-qualified choice. She also spent 14 years as the director of sales at the Holiday Inn in Fairmont before embarking on her journey in the field of city tourism.
Jumping right in
Silverthorn relocated from Fairmont to Red Wing in 2004 with her son, Tanner Looft, a 2011 graduate of Red Wing High School.
Silverthorn recalled her first week as the Red Wing VCB director as being “baptized with fire.”
“I started a week before the Grand Excursion — June 21,” she said. “There were over 45,000 people here in Red Wing.”
The Grand Excursion was a 10-day celebration of the Mississippi River with river towns from Rock Island, Illinois, to St. Paul hosting festivals and special events as boats made their way north.
Silverthorn had no crossover training period, and she credits Ralph Diercks and Arne Skyberg with making her transition from Fairmont to Red Wing successful.
Diercks was a well-known fishing guide and shared many adventures on the river with visitors. Along with offering fishing tours, Silverthorn said Diercks was an important part of the many fishing tournaments that came to Red Wing.
“There was one time we had a group out on the Mississippi, and I was supposed to be steering the boat. I was just supposed to keep the boat straight, but I got us stuck on the sandbar — right on the sandbar. His boys had to come get us with the pontoon boat,” she said.
She also highlighted how Skyberg, Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce director at the time of her start, was a key connection and source of local information.
“I could not have done my job without him,” Silverthorn said. “He would answer the phone, day or night, and have the answer to any of my questions.”
‘A million things’
The VCB has just two full-time staff members, Silverthorn and Kellie Morgen. Both are busy in and out of the office answering visitor questions, making connections and promoting the many Red Wing attractions.
“We do a million different things,” Silverthorn said. “There are a million different things to do here in Red Wing.”
With thousands of people stopping through the Visitors Center each year, a main part the job is to greet and answer questions.
The VCB is open seven days a week from Memorial Day weekend through October, when part-time workers help cover mainly weekend hours.
Part-time employees also cover the office hours while Silverthorn and Morgen attend travel shows.
Phones ring on any given day with questions about local attractions, upcoming events and much more.
Silverthorn and Morgen are responsible for creating itineraries. During bus tours, there is a “speed dating” type event where the two ladies have a total of six minutes to highlight different options for the tourists and create a customized schedule for each one.
A lot of work is on the road, recruiting visitors from border states.
“About a days’ drive is comfortable for people,” Silverthorn said.
She tells people Red Wing is not just a destination city but a destination in itself.
“I am still in awe of the beauty here,” she said.
A big part of the VCB budget is postage; mailings go to information centers in surrounding states.
The VCB works closely with Downtown Main Street as well as the chamber to promote local events, including the Holiday Stroll and Fall Festival of the Arts.
“I love that one,” she said. “It’s such a nice time of year here — so beautiful in the fall. People come just to drive the scenic byway and see all the leaves.”
As part of the Governor’s Tourism Council, Silverthorn has been able to keep Red Wing in the “eye” of Minnesota tourism.
She mentioned that Red Wing Shoe Co.’s “largest boot” is highlighted in Explore Minnesota advertisements.
Silverthorn said she has taken pride in representing Red Wing. Her last work day at the Red Wing VCB is May 16.