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Miles of experience: School bus driver appreciation day is today

Jerry Veen reports to the high school to take kids home following the school day Tuesday. Veen has driven a school bus for 20 years. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)1 / 2
Buses line up to pick up high school students Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday is bus driver appreciation day. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)2 / 2

WORTHINGTON — For more than 2,500 Independent School District 518, Worthington Christian School and St. Mary’s School students, arriving to school on time Monday through Friday does not occur by chance.

This achievement is in large part thanks to the 39 dedicated school bus drivers at Bud’s Bus Service who see that parents’ precious cargo arrives at school safely.

Their efforts and other school bus drivers across the state are being celebrated today — Minnesota’s second-annual School Bus Driver Appreciation Day — as officially proclaimed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

According to the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association, its organization and the Minnesota Association of Pupil Transportation teamed up to create School Bus Driver Appreciation Day to encourage school leaders, parents and students to celebrate the often-overlooked profession.

Worthington public and private schools reported planning to celebrate its drivers by hand-making cards and posters, distributing Girl Scout “Thanks-A-Lot” cookies and delivering treats to the bus garage.

“We are thankful for the job that the transportation company does to safely get students to and from school each day,” said District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard. “They have a huge job in transporting many of our students, and we really appreciate the job that they do each day.”

According to Bud’s Bus Service Manager Chris Kielblock, there are a variety of reasons its bus drivers choose to drive a bus route. Whatever the reason — from retirement to having a supplemental or primary job — there is one key commonality, he added.

“They truly care about the students that ride their buses,” Kielblock said.

This rings true for veteran drivers Jerry Veen and Deb Geertsema.

Veen knows by name each of the 56 kids on his primarily rural route and can’t help but smile when recalling memories of some of his little passengers, which includes two students who rode his bus from the first day of kindergarten through the last day of their senior year.  

“I enjoy kids and I enjoy driving,” he said matter of factly about the reason he continues to drive a bus 20 years later.

Geertsema said interacting with the kids is a highlight of the job.

“I tell each of them ‘good morning’ when they get on and to ‘have a good day’ when they get off,” Geertsema said.

The approximately 25-year veteran, who had been a daycare provider, began driving bus in August 1993 at the recommendation of a friend.  

“It’s a good part-time job while still working with kids,” said Geertsema, who also does secretarial work at Bill’s Appliance Service in Worthington.

Geertsema’s route begins at 7:05 a.m. each morning. In addition to her Worthington routes at the beginning and end of the school day, she also drives some ESL routes three times a week.

Keeping the days and routes straight requires some organization. The repetition generally makes it become second nature, but there are occasions when an accidental extended route may occur.

“Every once in a while you catch yourself on the wrong corner,” Geertsema laughed.

Like Geertsema, Veen also has a lot of miles and years of experience.

Veen began driving full-time in March 1998 as his “retirement” gig. He had retired from his job at Campbell’s Soup Factory and then had brief job at Vlasic Pickles (once a Campbell’s Soup Company product) after the Worthington plant closed, but was not ready to completely put his feet up. The retirement venture seemed natural to Veen, who had briefly driven bus as a side job in the early 80s.

“I was set to retire, but I needed something to do,” said Veen, one of Bud’s Bus Service’s oldest drivers.

The 75-year-old has been driving the same bus route — southwest of Worthington in and around Bigelow — since the second year he began driving. Veen canvases approximately 78 to 81 miles per day between his first pickup — 6:42 a.m. promptly — and last drop off — approximately 4:15 p.m.

Veen said he and other drivers must be prompt to the best of their ability so that the routes can operate as a well-oiled machine. That can get interesting, depending on the weather and road conditions.  

While minor flexibility exists for pick-up times, that flexibility only bends one way.

“I’m never early,” Veen said, noting how that would throw off the student and parents’ schedule.

Veen knows the functions of his bus inside and out — and, as a bus trainer at Bud’s Bus Service, helps other drivers do the same.

“With the exception of a few (drivers), I’ve helped most get their license,” Veen said.

The veteran drivers are not sure how many more years they have in them, but both are optimistic about the potential opportunity the job possesses to reduce hours or routes as needed without entirely permanently parking it.

Kielblock said he’s proud of Veen, Geertsema and Bud’s Bus Service’s other dedicated drivers.

“Most of our crew make the extra effort not to miss their route and often step up when asked if circumstances require us to adjust,” he said.

Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka