Our family operated a fleet of school buses and we contracted them to Perry Township Schools. That was the year, I obtained my license to operate a school bus and was issued a route. I needed to be 21 to become a school bus driver.
The closer it got to the first day of school, the more anxious I became. I had driven the bus quite a lot but never while transporting students. I had two routes: one with high school and junior high students. (some of those high school students were only three years younger than me) and one with students attending the Edgewood and Riley elementary schools.
On that first day of school, I went through my normal routine. I worked hard at trying to hide behind a big smile. Truth was, I was a total mess.
While heading south on Meridian Street to my first stop for the older students, my mind was going 60 mph. The bus was probably creeping along at about 25 mph. I was sure curious about what that first day as a school bus driver held for me.
Upon arriving at the first stop, I saw several students waiting. I activated the lights, put out the stop-arm and opened the door. The very first student (who I later learned was a 7th grader) boarded, smiled and issued a friendly “good morning” to me.
Her smile lit up the entire bus. In that short span of time, I relaxed and began doing the job that I had been trained to do. There were several students on that route that over a span of time helped me learn how to deal with school bus riders. I found myself on a fast learning curve.
That young lady with an infectious and never-ending smile was Marcia Gunnion, who rode my school bus for several years. She was involved in music and cheerleading and proved to be a true inspiration to many of her peers.
A few years later, we sold our fleet of buses to the township and I moved to California for a few years. After returning to Indianapolis, I lived and worked in Broad Ripple. I did run into Marcia occasionally. One time, she told me that she was getting ready to begin working at the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.
Shortly after that, I was given a new position and transferred to Michigan. Sometime later, I got word that Marcia had become very sick and later died. That hit me very hard.
Years later, I was often reminded of her as I had returned to school bus driving for Beech Grove City Schools. On each first day of school for the year, as I would approach the first stop on each route, she would quite often be on my mind.
Isn’t it amazing how much of an influence we can have on someone, maybe without even knowing?
That is one of the special things that I enjoy about submitting my articles. It generally gives me an opportunity to enjoy remembering great stories about my friends, co-workers, bus riders and family.
For this week…… Thank you, Marcia.
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a ’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools.