ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Bravely fighting back tears, she talks about her recent retirement as a school-bus driver for 12 years.
“I liked my job, but I loved my kids,” said Gladys Funk of rural Hillsboro.
“That was probably the hardest thing about retiring. I’m going to miss them.”
For more than a decade, Funk found a calling driving a school bus for special-needs children in the USD 410 school district. Her last day on the job was May 23, the final day of the 2002-03 school year.
Special-needs children are those identified as having significant behavior disorders or severe emotional disturbances. Currently, they are transported by bus to OASIS, a classroom program in Florence under the Marion County Special Education Cooperative.
Funk and husband Don have been married for 48 years, and count three daughters and three grandchildren on their family tree.
Driving a school bus is in the couple’s past history. Don drove one for USD 410 for about 17 years and retired to full-time farming four years ago.
After about 10 years working in the cafeteria at Tabor College, Funk discovered the district needed a special-needs bus driver.
“They allowed me to drive before I worked at Tabor in the morning, and after I was off work from Tabor in the afternoon,” Funk said.
“Then, when the college cafeteria went from being Tabor sponsored to the program they have now, I went ahead and continued just with the school district.”
So after two years of working both jobs, she left Tabor and concentrated on her ability to nurture special-needs children on her bus route.
“They’re great kids, great kids,” Funk said about the students she’s known during her career.
“And the main job I had was to make sure the children arrived safely at school. Safety is the key issue.”
When on board with USD 410 in the beginning, Funk’s first order of business was obtaining a commercial driver’s license-requiring special training in defensive driving. Another prerequisite was to obtain training in CPR and first aid.
“All those things are mandatory every year,” Funk said about classes designed to update bus drivers on new laws and refresher courses in CPR and first aid.
Her route over the years changed as the special-needs program was moved to different locations. Starting out in Peabody and Florence, classes were later offered in Newton, El Dorado and Wichita.
About five years ago, the OASIS program was founded in Florence.
“Their purpose was to work these children back into the school system,” Funk said.
“So as they progressed that far, then I would have some students who would spend half day there and half day over here.”
On those occasions, Funk added a third trip to OASIS, picking up some students over the noon hour.
Her normal five-day week involved a morning route and afternoon route.
“There were days different years where I probably drove over 200 miles,” Funk said. “And then, there were years when it was maybe 125.”
Her days usually began at 5:30 a.m., and her afternoon route was over about 4:30 p.m.-putting in about total of four hours a day.
In later years, she was able to take advantage of special-needs training through classes offered at OASIS.
“That’s when I really got excited about working with these children,” Funk said. “There were things that you could apply to everyday life, and it worked.”
The first 10 years, she drove a small, yellow school bus that handled like the larger busses and did not have climate control.
But about 11/2 years ago, she began driving a 10-passenger van with heating and air-conditioning.
Parking the van at her home in off hours, she was responsible for daily maintenance chores during the school year.
“Every morning, I needed to check out my vehicle,” Funk said. “I had to check the oil, the tires and make sure it had gas-all things like that.”
The number of students transported on these vehicles varied from as much as 10 to as few as five. When the numbers were up at one time, she had help from a paraeducator.
But Funk said she was not concerned with discipline problems throughout her career.
“If you gave special respect to the kids, you usually got special respect in return,” she said.
“Kids are wonderful vessels. I had some problems, but they weren’t things I couldn’t work out.”
Keith Goessen, supervisor of transportation and maintenance at USD 410, had high praise for Funk’s abilities with the children she transported.
“Gladys really cared about the kids, and they cared about her,” Goessen said.
“She tried to be a good leader for them. I think they saw her as a grandmother figure. She tried to teach those kids to live a good life-the right life style.”
Goessen said he regretted Funk’s retirement.
“I hated to see her turn in her resignation,” he said. “I really enjoyed having her. She was a very good, dedicated employee and very loyal to the school. She still has some kids who are no longer in school, but they will call her or come over.”
But despite protests from administration and students, her retirement plans went forward.
“Retirement was probably the most difficult thing I have ever done,” Funk said. “It was difficult to say out loud, because I felt like I was in really good health. But you want to do the best you can, because you have the best cargo in the world.
“I hope I made a difference somewhere in their lives-because I really, really love them, and I think God has blessed my life as a result of working with them.”
Her years of service are scheduled to be commemorated by a Chamber of Commerce event.
She and Don have already enjoyed part of her retirement since last spring. They’ve taken a vacation to Colorado and plan another vacation in the fall.
“I just want to catch up on everything I’ve let slide, and that is just about everything,” Funk said.
“But mostly, I just want to be able to sleep maybe an hour later in the morning. I don’t want to make a decision right away. I’m just going to have fun and enjoy what there is.”
Asked what advice she would pass along to other drivers who encounter school busses, Funk said she would like to remind them that school busses can’t go faster than 55 mph.
“People are in a terrible hurry,” she said.
“When they’re hurrying, they don’t think about it, but it could be their child or grandchild on that bus. When they see yellow, I’d like them to slow down.”
For those who step into bus-driving shoes like hers, Funk said it takes a certain personality to do the job well.
“I think that you have to love young people,” Funk said.”You have to be able to overlook some of the things that are said or done at that age and respect them for who they are.”