Last week I went to the funeral visitation for a school bus driver.
Of course, Dale had lots of roles throughout his life - husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, farmer - but even longer than any of that he was a school bus driver for the public school where he graduated. He started driving in 1943 even before he finished high school in 1945; drivers were scarce then thanks to World War II. And then he was back at it when he finished his military service after he was drafted when he graduated.
Decades later he retired from that job, working for a total of 61 years during the school year so that yellow bus was on time coming and going with the young students. When you think about it, that's a huge number of miles behind the wheel. Dale could have traveled somewhere really awesome in a distance of that many miles, but instead he stayed in the southern end of Hamilton County with his young passengers mornings and afternoons.
Dale was my bus driver back in the day when there were many more farms across the countryside, back when it was possible to fill a school bus with youngsters in a fraction of the miles that it takes now. Especially if they were big families, like the one living down the road a few miles from me. It took some time to get all of them on the bus even on a good morning. Often one or two of the siblings would step on to the bus explaining to Dale why not everyone was there that day: "Iris is coming. She's looking for her book," or "Please wait for Faye. She can't find both of her shoes."
And patient, long-suffering Dale would sit in the bus at the driveway on the gravel road waiting, his hands crossed on the steering wheel. It seems to me that everyone in the family always eventually arrived on the bus and finally to school, along with the rest of us.
Dale drove bus for my children, too. By that time the school had been consolidated and Dale had advanced to drive the easiest bus route straight down the highway from the town where we lived to the town ten miles away where the school was. I always felt like my children were safe with Dale behind the wheel of their school bus, both coming and going to school.
Maybe it was the unflappable demeanor that made Dale a success behind the wheel. Or maybe it was the way he greeted everyone as they clambered onto his bus and then told them goodbye at the end of the school day as Dale delivered them safely home again.
It was the length of his almost unbelievable tenure behind the wheel of his school bus that made the late Dale Hanson a bit of legend. It was the dedication to his job and to his bus kids that means he won't be forgotten soon.