Tucked in the far back corner of his office in the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center, Carl Kell leans back in his chair, smiles to himself and gives a little chuckle.
Maintaining a sly grin the whole time, Kell launches into another cheeky story about his European travels, this one about his time having lunch on a fully operational farm in Switzerland, though he said he still has no idea how he got there.
Kell, a professor emeritus in the communication department, has already established himself as a world traveler.
“Doctor Kell has done multiple international conferences, workshops, leading different consultations and so on,” Helen Sterk, head of the communication department and friend of Kell’s, said. “He is an adventurer.”
Though Kell has already done substantial traveling both through his work and at his own leisure, he has no intentions of stopping anytime soon.
Kell, who is retiring from WKU this May, plans to travel somewhere new each month of his retirement for as long as possible.
“I’ll go somewhere every month,” Kell said. “Could be close to home, could be far away. But that’s the general plan.”
Kell already has travel plans through the end of the year, with destinations ranging from New York City to Spain and Norway.
Kell said he believes his love of travel is something he was born with.
“I think I have an extra gene about travel,” Kell said. “I can’t wait to get on a plane and go somewhere.”
Sterk said she sees Kell’s love of the unknown as an embodiment of what students should strive for beyond college.
“He just likes to go,” Sterk said. “He likes to discover, and he’s curious. We talk a lot about lifelong learning, but he does it.”
Kell said his favorite part of traveling to other countries is not to see events but to see the everyday life. Kell finds himself most interested in how the countries are put together in terms of commerce and the natural landscapes.
“I watch the Tour de France when I get the chance,” Kell said. “I really don’t have a thing for the bike race, but I love the helicopter shots over the mountains and valleys.”
He said his fascination with the beauty of other landscapes across the world often leads him to spend more time admiring the nature than what he’s supposed to be touring. “I took a trip to Switzerland in June
and what impressed me, aside from the mountains and valleys, was the water,” Kell said. “The water was crystal blue in some places, some places emerald green. And you could see straight to the bottom no matter how deep it was. I spent more time looking at water than the buildings.”
Kell said he enjoys learning about a country from a chamber of commerce point of view instead of a tourist point of view.
“Looking, thinking, feeling, going places, trying to find where you are and get from point A to X, it’s good fun,” Kell said.
Kell said he finds his best stories come not from visiting countries to learn about a certain time period or historic event but to learn about how they are now. “I think we all see with our own set of
eyes when we travel,” Kell said. “I just see things differently than others. People I know travel for the events. I travel for the places. I want to see the roads, the highways, the castles, the buildings, the water.”
Kell said his wanderlust has led him to create a little game with himself that he plays every day when he looks up at the planes in the sky.
“I look up and see the contrails, and I wonder, ‘Where are they going?’” Kell said. “I bet they’re going to Chicago. ‘That looks like Chicago. That looks like Dallas’ — and I wonder where they’re going to go after that.”
Despite spending a lot of time watching the planes go by and wondering where life will take him next, Kell said he never wanted to wait long. Instead of thinking about all the places he could go, he said he’d rather work to make sure he gets there.
“I’ve never had a bucket list,” Kell said. “If I wanted to go somewhere, I found a way to save to go. Now it’s just a matter of deciding where you want to go and going there.”
Kell said he hopes others will push themselves to explore the world around them, whether that be near or far. He believes the most important thing is that individuals make the most of the time they have — whatever that might mean to them.
“All of us intend to live forever,” Kell said. “That’s not going to happen, but the best time to go anywhere, whether it’s going fishing or driving or traveling, is when you can go. So take advantage of it.”
No matter where he goes, Kell is always sure to bring home something more valuable than photos or keepsakes. Kell makes sure to bring home plenty of stories. Alora Bleu, one of Kell’s students, said this is what makes him memorable to her.
“Doctor Kell is a really wise man and always has a story to tell his class,” Bleu said. “Him taking the free time after his retirement to travel inspires all of his students to live their lives to the fullest. I’m sure he’ll have many more amazing stories to share from his travels.”
As he rises out of his chair and grabs his jacket, Kell remarks he has to go home and do laundry. But before that, perhaps he’ll look at the contrails in the sky and wonder where those planes are going — and maybe one of those planes is headed for his own next destination.
Features reporter Julie Sisler can be reached at 270-745-6291 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Julie on social media at @julie_sisler.