ROLLING ON: Former NASD bus drivers gather for reunion

Published 6:28 pm Sunday, April 7, 2024

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NATCHEZ — Teachers and administrators “earn their flowers” before they’ve retired with annual recognitions and rewards, but one retired bus driver wanted to make sure that he and others like them have their chance to shine too, he said.

“I was 19 when I started driving a bus and I did 22 years before my health started to fail me,” said Patrick “Derky” Gibbons, the organizer of a reunion for retired Natchez Adams School District Bus Drivers.

Patrick “Derky” Gibbons hosts the bus driver’s reunion on Saturday, March 23, at the Red Room. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)

Before 2003, when Natchez Adams School District began contracting student transportation with Durham Bus Services and later Eco Ride, the district had its own buses and bus drivers.

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Approximately 15 bus drivers and NASD employees gathered on a recent Saturday for a long overdue reunion and reminisced about those days.

George Minor acted as the emcee for the evening at the Red Room on Devereux Drive. Songs were performed by current NASD Public Engagement Coordinator Tony Fields and Lashonda Terrell. T-shirts for the bus drivers were also made by Von Isaac and Jennie Jones.

Natchez Adams School District Public Engagement Director Tony Fields sings a tribute to NASD’s former bus drivers at their reunion on March 23 at the Red Room event venue located at the strip mall off of Devereux Drive. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)

The longest surviving Natchez Adams School District bus driver Julia M. Griffin, who was not present, was awarded a plaque in honor of her years of service to NASD.

The longest surviving Natchez Adams School District bus driver Julia M. Griffin, who was not present, was awarded a plaque in honor of her years of service to NASD. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)

The buses have had signature yellow color and flashing lights for almost a century, but the buses these men and women drove lacked air conditioning or radio, some of them recalled.

“I wanted to do this because the bus drivers were always overlooked even though we are one of the most important parts of the district,” Gibbons said. “They realized that the year we striked to get our raises and the students didn’t have any other way to get to school.”

Gibbons said his bus was the “military bus” where students behaved unless they had a substitute driver.

He played a game with the other bus drivers, seeing who could remember which driver drove which number bus on the “old routes.”

Many of them did remember.

Peggy Norman Laushaw holds a picture of her mentor Dorothea Chatman, who could not attend the bus driver reunion due to health complications, she said. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)

The old bus number 26 was Dorothy McCraney, Gibbons said. Old bus 41 was Dorothea Chatman, who Peggy Laushaw carried a picture of because Chatman couldn’t make it to the reunion in person but, “I wanted to have her here with me,” she said. “She was my mentor and taught me everything I know.”

“It’s good to be recognized and appreciated,” said Linda McCurtry, a retired teacher and administrator of 50 years for Natchez Adams School District. “Even past students know me as Ms. James. It has been a long time since I was Ms. James. It melts my heart when they come back and hug me and tell me how much they care and appreciate me.”

McCurtry said that just as she was remembered for her work in the classroom and as an administrator, the bus drivers are appreciated though not as widely recognized. Their work is often as hard as any teacher, she said.

“I got the bus reports and it was unbelievable to see what some of these kids would say and do on the bus. But the bus kept on rolling,” McCurtry said. “May God continue to bless you whether you’re driving or not driving. You have done your part. You have made an impression upon these children that they never will forget.”

Shelia Coleman Peters speaks at the reunion about her days being a bus monitor and driver. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)

Shelia Coleman Peters drove for both Durham and Natchez Adams School District and now drives for Instant Impact Global Prep charter school.

“I’ve gone from driving children on the bus to those children’s children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren,” she said. “Never say that a bus driver has no value because a bus driver is a very important person. When those children get on that bus, they will respect you as long as you respect them.”

Retired Natchez Adams School District Bus drivers come together for a reunion on March 23 at the Red Room. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)