(L-R) Anna Dent Bennet and Shirley Ford Johnson, both Columbia County Board of Education bus drivers, check out each others attendance and service awards at the county's Bus Driver Appreciation Banquet Tuesday at New Hope Worship Center.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
As the long list of names for awards was read Tuesday at the Columbia County Board of Education's Bus Driver Appreciation Banquet, only one person got a round of applause when his name was called.
And, he is not even a bus driver.
Louis Frank is a mechanic and gas attendant at the main shop. Drivers do not have many opportunities to see one another, but each one pays a daily visit to Frank.
"I meet them all," Frank said during the event at New Hope Worship Center. "I talk to then when they have problems or want to quit. I tell them it is rough in the beginning, but it gets better."
He listens and encourages them all, and provides a little comic relief.
"Everybody loves him," one driver said. "He is crazy. We all look forward to seeing him every day."
Driver Pamela Garnett summed it up when she said Frank is a good person.
Frank substitutes on the special education bus when needed, which he really enjoys, he said. He does not take days off, except for the one day he took when his mother passed away. Frank says he is always there for the drivers, the children and the buses, and can take vacation during the summer.
"He is one of my best men," said James Drake, a fleet service manager. "He keeps the drivers in stitches."
Similar to Frank, the county's bus drivers often go above and beyond the call of duty to get children to and from school safely. They even attended the schools' open house and talked with parents about bus stops and bus safety.
Louis Frank, mechanic and gas attendant for the Columbia County Board of Education, helps hand-out items in a raffle including the scarecrow at the annual Bus Driver Appreciation Banquet Tuesday at New Hope Worship Center.
Photo by Valerie Rowell
"The start of this school year was the smoothest start I remember," Columbia County School Superintendent Tommy Price said.
According to Price, the school system received numerous positive comments about the drivers' presence and the drivers attending the open houses.
The approximately 200 drivers at the annual banquet ranged from those with 35 years experience to Sandra Carlos, who started driving only three months ago. Most were presented with at least one of the following awards: Safety, Merit Service, Perfect Attendance, Excellent Attendance, Years of Service and JobOut - which recognizes those who go above and beyond their job to help out as the system is short-handed.
The school system is the largest employer in the county. It has more than 130 drivers, 19 full-time assistants, 28 special education aides and two bus monitors, who transport more than 10,000 students per day to 25 schools, averaging 13,500 miles a day.
"Do not think for a moment that transportation is not a vital part of the school system," Price said to the group.
After awards were presented and dozens of raffle items given away, the driversenjoyed a catered buffet lunch before heading back to the big yellow bus to pick up children from school.
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