When recently retired Wawasee Community School Corp. bus driver Ethel Weaver began driving a bus in 1973, it was not automatic, did not have power steering, a radio or security cameras. Instead of push buttons, there were levers to pull or crank. And if the bus broke down, the kids on board would
Weaver was the first female driver ever hired by the school corporation – then knowns as Lakeland Community Schools – and she paved the way to where currently, there are more female bus drivers than male.
“They didn’t hire women then because they didn’t think we could handle the job,” said Weaver. “Before that, I had never driven anything quite that big.”
Weaver got her feet wet by taking her husband’s school bus for practice runs around their circle drive until she felt comfortable enough to hit the road. Her husband drove a school bus until 1979. After that, there was a written test, eye exam and physical to pass before receiving a public passenger license. Nowadays, a CDL is required to drive a school bus as well as a yearly physical and training.
“My CDL license is still good and my health is still good,” said the 80-year-old, “but it was time to plan on being together (with my husband) and enjoying life.”
Although she never intended to drive a bus for so many years, Weaver enjoyed her kids so much she made a career out of it. She drove to Syracuse Elementary School for the first few years of her tenure, but when that group of students were moved to North Webster Elementary, she followed them there and drove that same route for the rest of her career. Weaver occasionally drove for field trips, athletic events, special needs and preschool students as well.
“When I began, I had all 12 grades on the bus. All the kids I drove were basically good,” she explained. “A lot of people think that there are more bad kids these days, but there are really so many more good kids than bad kids these days. All my kids behaved for me. I was strict with them and they
knew I was the boss.
“In my last two years driving, I got to drive my great-grandson to school. I’ve even driven three generations of the same family.”
On her last day on the job, Weaver was given a plaque from the school district and a breakfast was held in her honor. “I dropped off my bus and I came home and cried,” she said. “I appreciate Wawasee. They have been so good to me. I appreciate all the help.”
Weaver and her husband enjoy camping in their RV and going fishing. They plan on camping regularly now that both are retired. Weaver also makes quilts, does custom sewing, crocheting, and she gardens.
“It’s nice. I’m as free as a bird. We’ll take off when we please and just take it a day at a time,” she said. “It’s hard telling what exactly we might do, but we definitely will not be bored! We will keep right on going, but not work quite as hard.”
Weaver admitted if the school district ever needs a substitute driver next year, she will be more than happy to fill in. “I felt like I was hauling the most precious cargo in the world. I had a good time.”