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Julia Stidham

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Julia Stidham: Everyday heroes in our community

Recently I struck up a conversation with a man that arrived at the job fair. He was an older man, nicely dressed and had a smile on his face.

The Union was one of the partners for the Job Fair, and so I was one of the greeters at the front table.

I asked him how he was doing as he was shaking off an April rain that wasn't letting up. He said he was doing well. He described himself as a retired gentleman who enjoys finding things to do with his extra time. I asked him what he liked to do. He said recently he was a bus driver.

"How did you like that?" I asked.

"I loved it. We have really awesome kids here in Nevada County."

"Yes, we do," I agreed.

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The conversation took me back to my childhood. I'm not sure that we were awesome kids back then, but our bus drivers sure were pretty awesome. Delivering us safely each day to and from school, they did not get enough credit for what they did and still don't.

I'm a local girl. I'm lucky enough to call this fantastic community my hometown. I took the bus from kindergarten until eighth grade ended. In kindergarten, we lived pretty far out of town off Bitney Springs Road, on a little farm. My first bus driver was named Jerry. In my little kindergarten mind, she was one of those women who I wanted to be like when I got older. She was a very nice person, intelligent and pretty. The kind of person that is firm and caring all in one. I can still see her golden hair blowing in the wind as we took that windy road each day to and from school. I think I was always one of the last stops on the way home, so I usually sat up front by her (I was also so little and I think she liked the younger kids up front closer to her) and felt like I got to know her. I think I rode the bus with Jerry as my driver until the third grade, when we moved into town.

My new bus driver after the move was named Pat. She was another amazing person and bus driver. Pat had me (and the rest of the kids on the bus) convinced that she had eyes in the back of her head. Sometimes she'd even wear her sunglasses on the back of her head, which helped us to presume that perhaps she was a mutant who actually did have eyes in the back of her head and we shouldn't mess with her. I don't know how she did it. She really saw everything that went on while remarkably delivering us all safely every day.

She had a great stereo on that bus too. This was back in the time of 8-track tapes. I still remember the box that held those tapes. Every so often she'd pick a kid to make the day's music selection. If you were chosen to select the music, it was a pretty big deal, and all of a sudden you'd have this choice to make.

The older kids would start whisper-chanting, "KISS … KISS … KISS …" while you were looking at the tapes. When it was my turn to choose, wondering to myself, "Do I pick Journey, KISS, Chicago or Foreigner?" I feared the older kids would be mad, but I usually picked ELO (Electric Light Orchestra). The older kids never got mad, or at least they didn't show it. Pat had established with all of us that rode on her bus that we would respect a decision made on the music (whether it was her choice or a kid's choice) and with each other.

Pat was always a firm but kind person and she ran her bus that way. She always had the best costumes at Halloween, too, and used to decorate her bus. This was back in the day when I think each of them owned their own buses. Times have changed now, but both Jerry and Pat really made a positive impression on me and I wanted to share my gratitude for all that they did.

Thank you to those who made my school years a little better and for getting me to and from school safely for eight years.

This is my shout out of appreciation to all the bus drivers out there in Nevada County. You truly are community heroes. As the school year comes to another end I just want to say thanks for keeping our kids safe and doing what you do. Our community is a better place because of people like you.

Julia Stidham is The Union's advertising director. Contact her at jstidham@theunion.com or 530-477-4243.