Diane Raver The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune
---- — As the start of the school year nears, teachers and administrators in the Batesville schools are busy preparing buildings and classrooms for students.
Another group that is also getting ready is school bus drivers. Some have just been driving for a few years, while others have transported students for decades.
Eddie Obermeyer is entering his 40th year in the profession. The Oldenburg resident says he got his start when friend Elmer Raver contacted him in the early ‘70s. “He had one year left on his contract and asked if I would be interested in being a bus driver and taking over for him .... That way I could see if I liked it or not,” and decide if it was something he wanted to continue, which he did.
“I enjoy the kids. Some of them are so funny and cute .... I am on my third generation of kids on my route, and I kind of feel like they’re part of my family.”
Dave Westerfeld, Batesville, recalls how he began about 25 years ago. “I was kind of in a job situation I didn’t like, and (transportation director) Bob Fitzpatrick offered me a job.
“I like being around kids. I drove a regular route for 12-15 years, and now I drive a special needs bus. Those kids are really neat. I just love working with them.”
Norman Gutzwiller is beginning his 25th year. “I worked at Hillenbrand’s for years, and my wife had already been driving a route at East Central,” so he decided being a bus driver was something he wanted to do.
The Batesville resident also takes St. Louis School students on their field trips and to sporting events. “I really enjoy taking the field trips .... I’ve been hauling kids since they were in kindergarten, and now I’m hauling their kids.”
Kim Powell, Batesville, says, “Sixteen years ago, I just thought I needed a job. A friend of mine, Steve Macke, told me about a bus driver opening, and I was hired.
“I enjoy the primary kids. They are still adorable. We have so much fun.”
However, the men admit there are some difficulties associated with the profession. Powell announces, “Middle school kids are the challenge. They push your buttons.”
Westerfeld notes, “Each student is different, and sometimes you deal with issues you don’t want to deal with. Plus, the weather sometimes makes driving difficult .... We have a lot of responsibility.”
Discipline is another issue, Obermeyer reports. “Kids are not perfect at home, and they’re not perfect on the bus .... If I have a problem, I try to work it out with the kids first. If the parents are already involved, I talk to them.”
The Batesville Community School Corp. employees have noticed changes through the years. “Kids are bolder today and less attentive to discipline. I have to discipline more now than 15-20 years ago,” Obermeyer observes.
“On a whole, kids are more active in sports and in school .... There are so many kids that get into academic teams and trying to excel in their education. A lot of them are in sports, which helps them learn teamwork.”
Also, “we don’t have to put tire chains on anymore ... and buses are so much better to drive than when I first started with a standard transmission. It’s so much safer for the kids and the driver. Radios and cameras are great assets. If you have problems, you call in, and you can pull the (camera) tape to see exactly what happened if something’s going on.”
Westerfeld points out, “With the computer age, everything is changing.”
Gutzwiller agrees, “So many kids have cell phones and electronic devices .... (and) 20 years ago, you didn’t hear about these little kids breaking up with so and so.”
Obermeyer shares a story about one of his young passengers. “Many years ago, I had hemorrhoid surgery and was off for awhile. When I got back, a little girl comes up to me and asks me where I was. I told her I had hemorrhoid surgery. She said, ‘I had that done, too. They took mine out when they took my tonsils out.’ I wanted to laugh, but she was as serious as can be.
“So many kids ask me what they should do as a career. For the majority, I tell them to go into the medical field ... because there’s a lot of jobs there. I also tell them to follow your heart.”
Powell adds, “The kids like to tell you what they did over the weekend. Since I own the Gibson Theatre, I see so many at the movies. Most of my employees at the Gibson come from the school bus. I know them and their families.”
What advice do the veterans have for rookies? Westerfeld stresses, “You have to be patient and have the caring. Each child is different.”
Obermeyer says, “Every year we have to go to a safety meeting and have a school bus inspection. You always go there in hopes they don’t find anything wrong, but if they find something, it’s something you want to fix.”
Powell reveals, “The state has made it so hard to become a bus driver, but if it’s something you can afford to do, I would recommend it. At times you pull your hair out, but I still have a real good time with the kids.
“I feel the BCSC is a very good corporation. They try hard to keep the kids safe. I’ve had no problems with them in the years I’ve worked here.”
Diane Raver can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.