Wheels on the bus go ’round for last time
Driver retiring after 38-year haul
When Wendy West put her daughter Morgan on the bus for her first day at Taylor Elementary, she knew her child was in good hands.
That’s because they were the same hands that drove her to Taylor when she was a kid.
The Wests are included in a list of parent-child pairs that have had Clifton resident Sherrill Dodd as a bus driver. Dodd planned to drive a school bus until she could drive one of her former passengers’ grandchildren to school, but has decided after 38 years behind the wheel, it’s time to retire.
“I’m going to write a book. I’ll call it ‘I Was a Bus Driver for 38 Years.’ Do you think anyone will buy it?” Dodd, 71, said Wednesday, her last day picking up kids at Taylor. She’ll complete her career this afternoon when she drops off the last Palisade High School student on her other route.
After a series of odd jobs and staying home with her kids, Dodd agreed to substitute for a bus driver while he went on a hunting trip. By the time he returned, she was ready for her own route.
“I’ve always loved to drive, and I was really hooked on those kids,” she said.
Dodd started with District 51 but also worked for R.W. Harmon and Sons, Mayflower, Laidlaw and First Student. She said she has “had some really wonderful managers and some really crumby ones.”
She’s more hesitant to choose favorites among students.
“I just loved every one of them,” Dodd said.
She looked for the good in even the most rambunctious kids. One “rascal” concealed his good side until one day he hopped off the bus, smiled and said, “Take care, Sherrill.”
“Ninety-nine percent of them are good. It’s the one percent that give all those kids a bad name,” Dodd said.
Wendy West remembers Dodd as a firm but friendly driver.
“She helps people get their day started right because she’s always smiling,” she said.
“She was always nice,” said West’s brother, Derek Potter.
West’s mother, Kris Potter, sent three of her five children to school with Dodd and remembers Halloweens when Dodd would dress up, holidays when she’d hand out candy, and mornings when she’d show up even when she wasn’t feeling her best.
“She had the ability to make it seem like she could do something special for you, and it was really the other way around,” Potter said.
Potter recalls smiles were just as important as safety to Dodd.
“She made sure people respected each others’ rights on the bus,” Potter said.
“When I yell, I call it the shock treatment,” Dodd said.
But those moments were rare.
“You have to treat kids like they’re human beings, and if you say please and thank you, they respond to that,” Dodd said.
Dodd raised countless children on her bus and four of her own at home. One son is a retired doctor living in town, and another is a rocket scientist in Oak Park, Calif. Her other two sons followed in mom’s tire tracks and became truck drivers based out of Grand Junction. Her sons rode her bus, too.
On one trip with the middle school basketball team, a passenger yelled that someone was rolling around on the bus floor. Dodd flipped on an interior light and discovered it was her third child causing the commotion.
“I had a coach that patted me on the arm to comfort me, and my number two son said,
‘Stop seducing my mother,’ ” Dodd said.
Recruiting drivers is easier than keeping them around for nearly four decades. That sets Dodd apart, said Marvin Shipley, contract manager for First Student, the school district’s bus-service provider.
“This is the first driver I’ve had for 38 years,” he said. The next most-seasoned driver is expected to return for her 35th year this fall.
Children have given Dodd farewell cards and gifts. One sobbed when he stepped on her bus for the last time Wednesday afternoon.
Dodd said she won’t shed tears today until her route is done. Then she’ll spend her retirement “trying to play as much as possible.”