Sandy Mansee’s tour groups have been to Bayfield, Chicago, St. Louis, Fargo and Sioux Falls.

They’ve toured the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa; Ulysses S. Grant’s house in Galena, Ill.; the Spam Museum in Austin, Minn.; and the Orphanage Museum in Owatonna. They’ve learned how candles, paint, pillows, mattresses, cardboard boxes, cement trucks, windows and baked beans are made.

“I like to learn things,” said Mansee, a tour guide for the St. Paul Public Schools Community Education program. “I’ve always been curious. I like to go to new places, and it’s always fun to go to places where the general public can’t go. There’s so much to see right in our back yard.”

Now, after more than 33 years and 300 tours, Mansee is giving up her microphone and the front seat of the bus. On Thursday, Mansee, 64, of Vadnais Heights, led her last tour for Community Education; she retires on May 30.

“It’s a special day,” said Mansee, as she greeted the 22 participants on the bus Thursday morning outside Oxford Community Center in St. Paul. “This will be my last bus tour after 33 years of working with St. Paul Community Education. … We’re going to have a great day. Please ask questions. You guys usually have questions.”

The tour participants — each of whom paid $65 for the day — joined Mansee for a guided tour of St. Paul City Hall and the Ramsey County Courthouse in downtown St. Paul, lunch on their own at Rosedale Center in Roseville, and a tour of the “On + Off Weaving” exhibit and a “behind-the-scenes look” at the Dye Lab and Dye Garden at the Textile Center in Minneapolis.

Although they couldn’t go on Thursday’s tour, longtime tour participants Ron and Marghe Tabar stopped by to give Mansee a hug and wish her a happy retirement. “We’ve been lucky to have Sandy as our tour guide all these years,” Marghe Tabar said. “She’s cheerful and well-organized. She is clear of her expectations of those on the bus. The tour days run on time, and she’s done her research.”

The couple has enjoyed — “and bragged about” — Mansee’s “Made in Minnesota” tours for many years, Marghe Tabar said.

“I’ve kept a list of most of the tours because sometimes the places we visited are unusual locations to take visitors,” she said. “Somehow she talks business owners into opening their doors to groups.”

Some of the Tabars’ favorites include: QBP (Quality Bicycle Products); the MyPillow factory; the Original Mattress Factory; Captain Ken’s Baked Beans factory; WestRock, the corrugated packaging company; Tilsner Carton Co.; Podiumwear Custom Sports Apparel; the Schwing factory, maker of truck-mounted concrete pumps; Andersen Windows; a hydroponics factory that grew fish and herbs; TruStone Coffee Roasters; Vistabule Teardrop Trailers; Minnesota Knitting Mills; BEKA Wood Products; and the U.S. Postal Service mail distribution site in Eagan.

Mishaps and Mystery Tours

Mansee organizes everything and does her research, said Rita Jondahl, 75, of St. Paul. “She knows everything, and she makes it fun. It’s nice because there are always other people around, even if you’re by yourself.”

Jeanne Driscoll, 73, of St. Paul, has taken 16 of Mansee’s tours. Her favorite tours are Mansee’s “Mystery Tours” — the ones where Mansee picks the locations, but tour participants have no idea where they are going until they get on the bus.

Mansee, whose official title is Community Education program coordinator, said she especially loved planning the Mystery Tours. “I’d plan the day, set the price, and people would sign up,” she said. “They’d have no idea where they were going. When they boarded the bus, they just trusted me to take them on an adventure.”

One of the best Mystery Tour destinations was a trip to the Minnesota Highway Safety & Research Center in St. Cloud, she said. “They actually let us drive their training course and drive the (Minnesota State Patrol) trooper cars around the track and run the sirens and the whole deal. Everybody who wanted to drive got to drive the course and be in the driver’s seat of a trooper’s car. They loved it.”

There have been some mishaps, of course. Buses have broken down. One bus driver refused to help with the luggage. Trips have had to be postponed because of bad weather. Passengers have gotten sick. Some haven’t understood the concept of being back at the bus at a set time.

Sandy Mansee smiles holding a straw hat in one hand and a paper in the other.
Sandy Mansee, holding her signature straw hat, asks for people to gather around during a tour of the St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)

Once, during a visit to the Island of Happy Days, a historic estate on Stout Island in Wisconsin, tour participants were served beef stroganoff for lunch, Mansee said. “It was so slippery that we could barely pick it up with our forks. You had to use your fork and your spoon, and hope you got it to your mouth. Every time I see anybody who was on that tour, we still talk about that.”

Mansee once lost her voice on an overnight trip to Duluth — a major obstacle for a tour guide, she said.

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