The joy of a career working with children
Pat Peterson loves her job driving a school bus so much that even when she retired, she didn't stop doing it.
The 32-year veteran driver of the Westmer and Mercer County District 404 schools had to be talked into trying the job in the first place. One of her sisters convinced her to give it a try.
"I said I'd do it for a while, maybe a year," Peterson said. "I had an amazing boss back then. It was a lot of fun driving back then. You had a lot of camaraderie."
While she "retired" on Sept. 25, she's still driving.
"We don't have anyone to take my route yet," Peterson said. "My retirement plans are to be a substitute (driver). I don't think I can quit cold turkey."
She didn't have to think twice when asked the best part of the job.
"Oh, the kids, by far. I love the kids," she said, adding he also likes starting work early. "My favorite time is early in the morning. The sun is just coming up and the sky is gorgeous."
While Peterson has never lost her love for the job, she admitted things have changed over the three decades of her career.
"I liked working more for Westmer than I do for Mercer County," she said. "Everybody was more or less behind you" during the Westmer years. "You can see a lot more disrespect than before."
Peterson said, however, she's been fortunate.
"My parents and my kids are awesome. I think my kids respect me and I respect them."
There were some memorable moments over the years. She remembered one time when school remained in session all day during an ice storm. Administrators expected temperatures to rise and the ice to melt, neither of which happened.
"I did not get home that night until 6 or 7 o'clock," she said.
Her route was filled with hills and deep ditches on either side of narrow roads. The bus got turned around in the road at one point. Peterson said some students up the hill to the house of a woman with cats. The woman gave them kitty litter, which was put under the tires of the bus. Inch by painful inch, Peterson managed to straighten out the vehicle and get going again.
"Right in the middle of the hill, we had to stop," she said, as a pickup truck came from the other direction. The driver of the truck hooked up chains to the bus.
"Somehow he got me up the hill," Peterson said, smiling at the memory. "I think it was the hand of God. By all rights, that bus should have been sliding backward."
Peterson has a deep faith in God. She said he put it in her heart to retire earlier this year from her job cleaning house with Dustbusters. Admittedly, she wasn't so happy when He told her it was time to retire from her bus route.
"I felt like the Lord was speaking in my heart," she said. "It's time to give this up and move on to something else. I argued with Him. God always wins."
As Peterson looks back on her career, she realizes some people might not be impressed.
"I could have done other things. I could have gone to college and been a teacher. It really wasn't for me. This is what I like. Some people think driving a bus is a menial job. I don't. It was a pleasure.
"I think the Lord placed me here for a reason. I just hope I fulfilled that reason."
And, lest one thinks her comment about her love for the former Westmer district means she isn't happy at all with Mercer County schools, think again.
"We have an excellent staff," the long-time driver said. "This Mercer County bus garage has the best staff you'll ever find. They're very good at what they do."
Peterson also said driving a school bus can be still be a rewarding career.
"Anybody that would choose to do this job will fall in love with it," she said. "It's a marvelous job for a retired person," or anyone who wants time off in the middle of the day, or who has children taking part in sports.