After almost 40 years of teaching, I decided it was time to retire from Beech Grove High School in 1997.
But I soon discovered that I was wrong about it being time, so I returned to my old school to work a few hours a week on the grounds. That led to the maintenance department and eventually to transportation, where some 18 years later I am still hanging out on a part-time basis.
It was in the transportation department that I met bus driver Fred Shonk, with whom I became good friends. You may have read some of his articles in this paper or attended school with him. You might have even ridden on his bus or seen him at one of the many community functions he attends.
Soon after I started in the transportation department, our school district purchased two buses, one of which was assigned to Fred, who named it Ursula. The children he transported – kindergartners and elementary pupils – thought it was a cool name. Fred nurtured the bus, and the children liked it as much as he did.
I recall the time the kids found a spider on the bus and became frightened. Fred came to the rescue when assuring them that everything was all right because the spider – Fred – was one of his pets.
Fred loved his job and has become longtime friends with many of his former passengers. When Superintendent Paul Kaiser opened the Beech Grove alternative school, Fred befriended many of the students who attended it and offered them support. I remember a time when Fred and two other school employees purchased a car for a student as a graduation present so she could drive to and from her job. At the beginning of the next school year, Kaiser offered her employment.
Another student whom Fred grew close to had an interest in robotics, so Fred took it upon himself to meet with Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, an acquaintance, and discussed the possibility of that student pursuing her studies at Purdue. We have since learned that she was awarded a scholarship and will attend the West Lafayette campus in the fall.
Along with Fred’s many civic activities, he has trained therapy dogs, which visit nursing homes and schools and greet troops returning to Camp Atterbury from deployments. Stuart, his current dog, and Fred can be seen entering Hornet Park and South Grove elementary schools every Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, where Stuart listens to children read. Studies have shown that pupils who don’t read well can improve that skill when perusing to dogs.
Fred’s wife, Lynn, volunteers at the Historic Hanna House.
Fred is a great citizen, a valuable contributor to our community and one of the most loyal, caring persons I know. I am honored to call him my friend.