Lunch shows love for bus drivers

Joe Webb, center, pilots Buster the remote-control school bus as Ron Schappacher, left, and Bryan Nash, right, look on during a Love the Bus event at Transportation South in Pelham on Feb. 14. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

Transportation South employees and officials with the state Board of Education gathered in Pelham on Feb. 14 to show some Valentine’s Day love to bus drivers from dozens of school systems across Alabama.

During the second “Love the Bus” event, which was held at the Transportation South company’s building off McCain Parkway in Pelham, the company hosted a lunch for 42 school bus drivers from all over the state and rewarded them for their service to Alabama’s students.

Two bright yellow school buses donned with stickers depicting large red lips and the “Love the Bus” logo flanked tables draped in red, pink and white tablecloths and Valentine’s Day-colored balloons, filled the Transportation South garage during the event.

“We are the state’s largest school bus dealer. This is just a way for us to give back to those who drive the buses,” said Transportation South President Bucky Law. “It’s a great way to recognize Alabama bus drivers who drive with their hearts.”

The event featured paintings created by Valley Intermediate School students through the school’s “why I love the bus” art contest, and a small obstacle course through which bus drivers navigated a small, remote-controlled school bus named Buster.

Retired Morgan County bus driver and Children’s Choice National Bus Driver of the Year Joyce St. John and Alabama Bus Driver of the Year Ivy McCune, with Limestone County Schools, were also recognized during the event.

For St. John, the event served as a celebration of her 42 years as a full-time driver.

“It’s a part of my life, and I love it,” St. John said. “When I started driving in 1964, the buses were like old farm trucks.

“It’s a world of difference (today). The buses now are amazing,” St. John added, noting she still substitute drives when needed. “I can’t retire cold turkey. When you’ve got a love like I do, you can just walk away from it.”

St. John said she often tried to mentor the kids on her bus, and tried to inspire them “to do their very best.”

“The 11th– and 12th-grade boys are my favorite,” St. John said. “If you treat them with respect, they will return that feeling to you.”

Alabama Director of Pupil Transportation Joe Lightsey also praised Alabama school bus drivers’ safety record, and said school buses are among the safest modes of transportation.

“You could not be on a safer vehicle than on an Alabama school bus driven by an Alabama driver,” Lightsey said, noting the number of accidents involving school buses decreased 10 percent from 2010-2011.