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Donald Rominger Jr. 

School Bus Rides Could Be Exciting

Series: New Hope School | Story 3

September 19, 2019

My students at New Hope school in 1961 were a collection of mostly financially and socially deprived children. One family of 14 well-behaved but plainly dressed kids lived in a rambling unpainted plank board home. I had two in my room, an eighth grade girl, and a handsome seventh grade boy with an eye patch. Their other siblings included a second grader who was two grades below age level; learning delayed and non-verbal.

Two boys, Troy and Murray, also struggled well below grade level. Troy was about six feet one and turned 17 during the school year. I sometimes called the boys to my desk for one to one interaction.

With so many boys from socially challenged situations, it would seem that I might have had a fair number of discipline problems. I kept a short paddle in my desk for that purpose, but it was seldom used. (One boy, a 68-year-old man at the time of this writing, recently claimed he took a “lick” for something he hadn’t done, an event that demands my apology).

Courses for each grade included social studies, arithmetic, English, reading and science. Other short courses included health and penmanship, making potentially 28 preparations. I was also assigned to coach two boys and two girls basketball teams, plus softball in the spring. We also had a countywide track meet under my supervision.

Having been hired the week before school began, I had no lesson plans and wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. So, I began my first day with penmanship, the cursive letters of which were pasted above the chalk board. Cursive writing was a big deal when most people didn’t own a typewriter, much less a computer.

Looking over my shoulder at the students, I carefully exhibited on the blackboard the mechanics of each curve line. Pausing to reflect on what I had written I was mortified to see that my writing stretched dramatically downward to about a foot below where I had started.

I ran two bus routes morning and evening in a ten-passenger yellow bus. Since there were roughly 37 children that needed rides, I would cram up to 18 into the bus, with almost every student having another on his lap — and hope there would be one or more who would not need rides that day

The bus was kept parked at Milton Seikel’s auto repair shop in downtown Tecumseh, where I would pick up Jimmy Armstrong, Troy, Murray and other Tecumseh boys. The winter of 1961-62 was exceptionally rough, getting down to seven below zero with snow packed roads. Many mornings found the battery dead, and I would call upon the town boys to push the bus down the street as I would pop the clutch to crank the engine.

The boys in turn would charge after the bus and climb aboard, with the hope that the battery would remain charged throughout the day. On one occasion a prankster had placed an oil can under the clutch of the unlocked vehicle, which made it impossible to stop, causing me to narrowly escape crashing through a dead end fence at the Range Line Road.

The bus door also would not close adequately. A controversial situation that had been of some board consideration, this necessitated the use of baling wire to keep the door shut. In haste one morning, I glanced over to see a second grade girl sliding gracefully out the door. Shaken and moderately skinned from the gravel surface, she was taken home to her (thankfully) tolerant mother, and the door was forthwith repaired.

Bus drivers are vulnerable to surprises. On one occasion after honking for one of my fifth graders, I went to the front door to inquire about him. I was met by his mom, a lady wrestler, in nothing but her underwear and bra, who told me gruffly that her boy would not be attending that day. Ohhh-kaay (as I backed gingerly towards the road).

A situation that still haunts me is the image of Timothy, a blond haired first grader with translucent skin and extremities like the limbs of a willow tree. I would drop off the little boy at the foot of a long hill off Bethel Road which he would slowly climb each day to his home. The boy seemed malnourished, and I often wondered about his circumstances. To this day I hardly pass the road, but wonder about little Timmy, climbing the red dirt hill to his home.

(Taken from Dr. Donald Rominger Jr. Over My Shoulder, a Memento of a Life, a Career, A Family)


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