After 28 years, Brian Spence is hanging up his school bus keys

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Dave Mathieson
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After 28 years, Brian Spence is hanging up his school bus keys

Open a large box, gather up 60 screaming school kids, follow them inside and then lock the door behind you.
Sound like a recipe for disaster? Well it's exactly what Brian Spence has been doing almost everyday for 28 years.
The veteran school bus driver will hang up his school bus keys for the last time on Friday, May 23, three days before he turns 70.
Kids and parents, many of whom rode his bus when they were young, will miss the man who safely guided them from the Nappan, Leicester and Brookdale area to school in Amherst - and he will surely miss all of them.
"I think the world of the children and I'll miss them a great deal, but I'm going to call it a day."
"Being around the kids has kept me young," Spence added. "I'm not overweight and my blood pressure is good, but I have grandkids who will keep me busy and I have a lot of work to do around the house."
Driving a school bus didn't start out as a labour of love for Spence.
"I used to be a peacekeeper in the Middle East. I was in the Golan Heights three times and when I started driving back in 1980 I remember thinking it was harder to keep the peace on the bus than keeping the peace over there.
"I guess you could say I'm still keeping the peace," Spence added with a chuckle.
At first he wasn't certain if driving a school bus was great idea after all.
"I remember asking myself, 'what am I doing driving this bus?' The kids were jumping over the seats and throwing lunch cans, it was out of control, so I had to pull the old military act."
The old military act included personnel management training received during his career in the Canadian military and managing the kids meant reading the riot act.
"I read the rules to the kids and told them what was expected of them when they rode on the bus," Spence said. "They were told not to hit one another and not to stand while the bus was in motion. It took me about a month of driving to get the kids to where I wanted them."
Spence said every driver has different ways of dealing with kids, or of not dealing with them at all, but for him assigning seats has proven to be very effective.
"I find if you assign seats, the kids go directly to their seat when they get on the bus and they don't jump around as much," Spence said.
"Mind you, if they're not getting along with their seat mate then I'll tell them to come to me and I'll change them for awhile."
Spence lets out a big laugh when he tells how some kids like to think they're running the show.
"I've had a couple of kids through the years who want to be the boss," Spence said. "I'll ask them who the bus driver is and they'll say, 'you are.' When I do that it lets them know I'm the bus driver and they just travel on the bus."
Some of the story's kids tell are funny.
"I had one kid get on the bus and say, 'I have to tell you something Mr. Spence. My grandfather caught a deer and you know something, he didn't put his tag on it because he wants to get another one."
"I said, 'don't you dare tell anyone because you'll get your grandfather in trouble."
But Spence said the stories kids tell aren't always light-hearted.
"Some of the things the kids tell about what goes on in their home you wouldn't want to repeat to many people," Spence said. "When they tell me they're having a tough time at home or at school, you can't help but feel bad for them."
All in all Spence says the kids are all great and that they are no different now than when he first started driving a school bus.
"No, I'd say the kids are the same. They're noisy when they're in elementary, in grades 7 and 8 they are a little difficult and from grades 9 to 12 they settle right down."
And what does he think of the bunch of kids he has on his bus this year?
"They're a great group of kids," Spence said. "I'll definitely miss them all.

dmathieson@amherstdaily.com

Geographic location: Brookdale, Amherst, Middle East Golan Heights

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