When Marcia Hardy started driving school buses six years ago, her new occupation soon turned into a form of grief therapy.
The impetus for Hardy to seek the job started when her husband died of an aneurism in December 2005.
“I had to make some life plans,” the 49-year-old Evans resident said. “I opened the paper one day, asking God to point me in the right direction. I happened to see that (advertisement) for a bus driver.”
Once she started, Hardy said she was “shocked” at how easily she took to it, and by the camaraderie she developed with the about 100 pupils she transported each day to Evans High and Greenbrier Elementary schools.
“It was the kids that kept me going; their laughter,” Hardy said. “It was something to look forward to every day.”
Hardy’s dedication to her profession and her passengers recently earned her the Columbia County school system Bus Driver of the Year Award.
Along with Aide of the Year Shirley Dunn, Hardy was given the honor during an Oct. 20 bus driver appreciation luncheon she couldn’t attend.
Hardy has raised her 14-year-old grandson Brian Newton since he was 2 and had taken him to see his doctor that day.
After the luncheon, Hardy said she received a phone call to inform her of the award and was “shocked” and “floored”.
“I just appreciated and am humbled by it, but I only accept it on behalf of the other bus drivers so much more deserving than I could ever be,” she said.
Equally shocked was Dunn, who won the award for a second time. She first earned the Aide of the Year honor in 2008 for her work assisting special needs students attending Evans Middle, Evans High, Stallings Island Middle and Riverside Elementary schools.
“I just like helping those in need,” said the 51-year-old Appling resident. “It helps make me appreciate life. It puts your life in perspective.”
Sondra Hogan said their enthusiasm is what earned Hardy and Dunn their awards.
A school system central office secretary, Hogan headed up a panel of system employees who pored over nominations and selected Hardy and Dunn.
“We had a hard time narrowing it down this year, so we looked at what made them want to get up in the morning and drive that bus,” Hogan said. “Is the job just a way to get a paycheck, or did they put more into it than that?”
Hogan said Hardy’s and Dunn’s love for the pupils helped set them apart from 10 other stellar nominees.
For her part, Hardy gives the credit for her win to the pupils. Her devotion to them even prompted her to turn down a route that includes an air-conditioned bus.
“I’ll suffer with the good kids,” she joked.