The son of an agent

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about Steve Cebuhar, a travel agent who had worked for the State Department in Belgrade and Zagreb in Yugoslavia. Steve was my first agent, and I was pretty sure one of his three sons had followed him into the business.

After the column appeared, I heard from the missing son. Tom spent 28 years as an agent, starting in his father's business, World Travel, in Des Moines, Iowa. Later, he went to Lincoln, Neb., and then on to Fort Collins, Colo., before becoming an air consolidator. He also helps agents negotiate CRS deals.

That basic news arrived quickly in an e-mail, but business took me to Colorado in mid-July, and now we have greeted one another again in person -- after an unmentionable number of years. Tom said he moved out of retail in early 1998 because he wanted to work for himself and he "wanted to do something to help agents."

As a dividend, he found, it is "easier to work with agents than with the public." Tom has a silent partner, his brother Mike. TMC Consultants, with offices in Fort Collins and Denver, serves 400 small or midsize agencies in 16 states.

This is a very different air business from the one Tom apprenticed in as a youth; he recalled the handwritten tickets and direct reporting to individual international airlines before the original ATC area settlement system became so inclusive of carriers.

He also said his father had been "onto something but did not know it" when he pioneered affinity travel in Iowa in 1958. He ran a tour to Europe for the Iowa Farm Bureau.

In addition, Steve organized incentive trips in the mid-'60s. Rail was a "main source of revenue." Most of the ship traffic was transatlantic, Tom said, but his father arranged group cruises to the Caribbean, too.

Tom's fondest memories are of immigrants who came to plan trips back home. "I heard many conversations in foreign languages, as Dad spoke seven," he said.

Tom has not visited Croatia, where his paternal grandparents were born. While Yugoslavia was communist, Tom said he was in no hurry to visit a place where "my father was persona non grata." (Steve, open about his disapproval of the Tito government, was not welcome back once his Yugoslavia assignment ended.)

Steve visited relatives on the Croatian coast in the '40s, and I figure that, even now, if Tom visits the villages he will find oldsters who can place him on their family tree. Now all he needs is a good travel agent to book his trip.

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