Bus driver and more

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Most of us remember someone from our growing up years that we looked up to and wanted to be like. It wasn't necessarily someone on television or in the movies. A role model was more likely to be a parent or a neighbor or a teacher, someone in our daily lives we could observe in depth.
The driver of Edwardsburg school bus 26 is like that. School-age children from both Edawrdsburg and also several transfer students from Niles are fortunate to have a role model they can meet at their bustop each morning: Linda, the bus driver.
For the last 10 years, Linda Coon who lives in Niles, has been driving a school bus for the Edwardsburg Schools. A stay-at-home mom when she first started, she thought it would be a great way to bring in a little extra money and still be home with her children. "I really liked having holidays and summer months available when my kids were off from school," she said.
At first, her two boys, Michael, who is now 15 and in the 10th grade, and Jonathon, who is 20, rode a different bus. But for awhile they were both passengers on their mom's bus. "It didn't bother them at all," Coon said. It even had some advantages. "It was nice to have Mom there when they forgot their lunch money," she quipped, "and I always knew where they were and what they were doing."
As for becoming a bus driver, Linda had to study the rules and regulations established, and master the mechanical know-how to be qualified for the job.
A school bus driver is required to pass both a written test and a road test. They must qualify for a Class B commercial driver's license with both a safety and passenger endorsement. Beginning bus drivers start out with short outings like sports trips or field trips. They ride with experienced drivers as well, until they're ready to handle a full route.
But passing the requirements as a busdriver is only the beginning. It takes a mix of kindness and discipline to balance the needs of all the children on a bus. The driver is part parent to the younger children and head task master to the more active children. "You just have to treat each child individually," Coon said. "There are different circumstances for each age group as well. They all have their problems, just like you and me," she added.
Linda's morning begins early. Her morning wake-up is at 4:30 a.m. each school day. Her first bus route is with the middle school and high school students which takes about 40 minutes, followed by the elementary route which runs about 35 minutes. Then she heads for her other job as an office assistant with Elkhart General Hospital in Elkhart, Ind. In the afternoon she leaves Elkhart to repeat the bus routes again.
But before she can begin her rounds each morning, Coon must do a "pre-check" of the bus.
A pre-check includes thoroughly checking the bus from top to bottom and front to back. "It takes about 10 minutes to get through the list," according to Coon.
Her pre-check routine includes testing everything under the hood and under the bus to the safety features of the bus and the way it looks. According to Coon, "If there's a problem, I write it up for the mechanic." She adds, "And if the bus isn't working properly, I can call in for a different bus." But it's that extra touch that endears Coon to her riders.
After 10 years of driving a school bus, Coon has become a friend to a large number of children. "It's neat seeing how they grow and change," said Coon.
The students in Coon's care are obviously very comfortable with their bus driver. They share with her their joys and concerns of the day and when they see her in public places, eagerly walk over to chat with her.
Coon explains, "It's nice when they recognize and acknowledge you. It makes you feel like you're doing something good for the community."
Many parents would agree. Jenny Rudynski, whose two children ride on Coon's bus, has only good things to say about her.
Rudynski adds, "We are blessed to have her as our driver. We hope her route never changes. She's one in a million."