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Lifelong friends enjoy culture and camaraderie in Italy.

Doug and Marlena Bennett, Tim and Michelle Wilson, Barry and Charity Davis, close friends Tim and Rosie McNamara, Bill and Traci Pickert and Eric and Jana Hansen in Italy.

Doug and Marlena Bennett, Tim and Michelle Wilson, Barry and Charity Davis, close friends Tim and Rosie McNamara, Bill and Traci Pickert and Eric and Jana Hansen in Italy.

Tucked into the mountains and overlooking the valley, a villa with vineyards, olive trees, chickens, goats and gardens sets the backdrop to an unforgettable Italian getaway for a group of BKD partners, their spouses and close friends. 

Bill Pickert, Barry Davis, Tim Wilson, Eric Hansen and Doug Bennett all started at BKD’s Kansas City office within a year of each other during the early 1980s. While their office locations have changed and their schedules are now even busier, they continue to grow and develop a relationship that will last even after BKD. The group and their spouses—Traci Pickert, Charity Davis, Michelle Wilson, Jana Hansen and Marlena Bennett—joined close friend and BKD Managing Director Tim McNamara and his wife Rosie for a week in Italy early October 2019.

Group trips aren’t frequent and didn’t come about instantly, but they have grown to include annual retreats to the lake each summer. One of the perks of planning the Italy vacation was the chance to relax in the calm of the countryside. Most importantly, it was a chance to continue to nurture the friendships that originated from a common thread in their lives—BKD. 

“The best part of the trip was the camaraderie of the group,” says Eric. “That and pizza night.”

Meeting locals and making memories

Venturing off the beaten path, the group stayed in the small town of Ficulle, with a population of 1,000, located in the Umbria district. From there, the different destinations could be reached within an hour. Most days followed a similar structure of a journey into town (a 15-minute walk on a dirt path through the woods) and trip to a nearby city, then back to the villa for dinner.

As a fluent speaker of English and Italian, Roscoe—the son of the villa’s owner—was the group’s host and travel guide. (He also happens to be an accomplished chef.) Roscoe led the group throughout various cities, including Orvieto, where they had lunch in the ancient Grottos, Montepulciano and Montalcino for several wine tours and Cortona, where they saw some of the Etruscan tombs, a burial site of wealthy Etruscan families. But the out-of-the-way experiences were some of the group’s favorites, like their quest to find a local craftsman.

“One of the top things Jana wanted to do was visit this man who makes copper pots, but we didn’t know his name or where to find him,” says Eric. "With Roscoe’s help, we were able to locate his workshop."

The gentleman stopped what he was doing to meet with the group and talk about his work. He even did a demonstration and made Jana a Christmas ornament with everyone’s initials. He has a second shop down the road where he sells most of his goods, and everyone in the group found something to take home.

“His craftsmanship was amazing,” says Barry. “He’s also an Italian grandpa without a filter, which made the experience even more entertaining.”

Rosie McNamara, Jana Hansen, Michelle Wilson, Traci Pickert and Charity Davis.

Rosie McNamara, Jana Hansen, Michelle Wilson, Traci Pickert and Charity Davis.

Local copper craftsman demonstrates his trade to the group.

Local copper craftsman demonstrates his trade to the group.

The couples also met the owner of the Mozart Vineyard, Giancarlo Cignozzi, who’s been featured on various TV shows for his vineyard where he plays Mozart's musical compositions 24/7. Giancarlo talked about his process of making wines and discussed his methods and outcomes. He believes the grapes he grows have a certain thickness to the skin due to the music.

Once, after a long day, Roscoe led the group on a slight detour back to the villa. They explored the middle of the Italian countryside and saw the first American football field built in Italy. It happens to be near the birthplace of Vince Lombardi, who had the field built to bring the Green Bay Packers to Italy for training.

Bocce ball and then back to the states

Before the weeklong stay in Umbria, Eric, Jana, Tim and Michelle spent two days in Portofino, Italy, a small fishing village in the northern region.

“Even after a long day of overnight travel from the United States, the excitement of arriving in Portofino kept us awake,” says Tim. Portofino set the bar for the rest of the trip, which exceeded expectations.

“Portofino was one of the most spectacular places in the world we’ve ever been. It was on my wife’s bucket list to someday go to the area,” says Eric.

An overview of Portofino during a hike in the surrounding area.

An overview of Portofino during a hike in the surrounding area.

The area lends itself to scenic hikes and peaceful views overlooking the Mediterranean. The group spent much of their time hiking and exploring the land, which revealed hidden alcoves, rocky formations, sloping hills, castles and colorful buildings dotted throughout the greenery. They also spent time swimming in an area overlooking the harbor and feasting on homemade focaccia bread.

On the last night of their trip, the villa’s outdoor space was turned into a beautiful pizza-making frenzy. Complete with a large brick oven, long table and pizza ingredients, Roscoe and friends made personalized pizzas for everyone at the table. Every other night, Roscoe created a meal based on what vegetables, meat and pasta were fresh.

At the villa, the couples passed the time playing ping pong and bocce ball and getting to know the local company. With the moon out and the bocce ball court lit up, it was impossible not to enjoy the time together. The group even spent time convincing Eric to build a bocce ball court back home.

“Nothing compares to those evenings spent eating together, sharing stories and interacting with good company—new and old," says Eric. "At the end of the day, family and friends are much more important than material things, and the fact that we have developed lifelong friends in connection with our time at BKD is truly special.”

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