It didn’t matter if it was a sunny day, or a day spattered with raindrops. It didn’t matter if the wind was blowing in gusts, or the snow was a foot deep. Rain or shine, sleet or hail, school bus driver George Baessler was always there, waiting for the kids of Woolwich and Wellesley, like clockwork, for more than 40 years.
And this year, to thank him for his years of service, Baessler was honoured with a dinner and an award of recognition by his employer, First Student School Bus Transportation Services.
“These drivers epitomize what it means to be a school bus driver, as they are committed to the safety of the children they transport,” said Linda Burtwistle, president of First Student. “They are fixtures in the community and their dedication is unmatched.”
All in a day’s work for Baessler.
Baessler began his career working on his family’s farm in Linwood but a lightened workload and the addition of a few more to his growing family left Baessler looking for additional work. The job as a bus driver seemed to just land in his lap.
“When the job came up I thought it looked pretty good, and my kids liked the sound of it,” he said with a laugh.
“They were lucky; they just had to crawl out the door and get onto the bus.”
He began his time as a driver back in 1968, driving students to St. Clement School. Since he began with the company, he has seen five changeovers in ownership; he was first hired by Lishman’s Coach Lines, before the company was sold to United Trails Bus Lines, then Charterways Transportation, then Laidlaw Bus Lines and now First Student. His route changed from St. Clements to Linwood Public School to St. David’s High School and then back to Linwood.
“But I just kept right on going,” he said with a laugh. “My job was to be there, every day and get the kids to school on time, so that’s what I did.”
In June of this year, George was invited to a dinner at the Concordia Club in Kitchener where he was officially thanked for his service upon his retirement. He was given a pin for each of his years of work and a commemorative clock which now hangs in the kitchen of his Elmira home. But for Baessler, the highlight of his bus driving days was not the award, but the interaction with the kids he drove day in and day out.
“I like the children best, especially the little ones,” he said. “I drove the junior kindergarten kids who were kind of comical. Sometimes they weren’t as happy to be going to school but most days they would board the bus with a big smile and a ‘hello.’ I loved that.”
This school year, following a bidding war, First Student was not chosen as the carrier for Woolwich and Wellesley buses, so Baessler has decided that this is a good time to bring his bus to a stop, step off and pursue other interests in his retirement.
His own five children are in their forties now and Baessler has recently made the move from Linwood to Elmira, where he has bumped into many of his past bus riders.
“It’s so nice to see them and say hello now that they are grown and off doing different things,” he said. “At the end of the day as a driver, you are happy to have gotten everyone home safely. And then you do it all again the next day.”