VALLEY CENTER, Kan. (KSNW) — They see the sun come up as they pick up students and take them to school every morning. Then, pick up the students again and drop them off at home in the afternoon.
School buses are a familiar sight.
In Valley Center, generations of students are familiar with a bus driver known as Miss Gail.
Way back in 1978, the film “Grease” was released. The Bee Gees’ “Saturday Night Fever” was the number-one album, and here in Wichita, Gail Johnson needed a job. So, she started driving a school bus.
Every school day in Valley Center begins with 20 school buses transporting about a 1,000 students to USD 262 schools.
“When I first started, it was a job, and I could take my children with me on the school bus. So, that was good. I raised all three of my children on a bus,” said veteran school bus driver Gail Johnson.
After 45 years, Johnson is still doing what she loves; driving.
“Anybody to have the same position for 45 years in any field is amazing. But her patience, kindness and dedication to the district is unprecedented,” said Mark Marshall, USD 262 director of transportation.
Johnson and fellow bus driver Rose Babcock go way back.
“It’s hard to believe I used to be one of her students,” said Babcock, who’s been driving for USD 262 for the last seven years.
Babcock was 13 when she first rode on Miss Gail’s bus.
“I rode to Valley. It was a nice, quiet ride at first, and then on the way home, it was totally different,” said Babcock.
Gail has witnessed changes in children’s behavior and in bus technology over the last four-plus decades.
“They’re considerably safer than they were when I first started. We had metal backs on the seats. Roll bars around the back of the seats. I mean… now they’re all padded. You have all the technology now. You’ve got automatic doors to open the doors. Automatic stop arms,” explained Johnson.
“She’s a really nice driver, and she’s really good at driving,” said Valley Center sixth-grader Braely Teter.
“Yes, the kids, I think, have really improved as far as attitude, and we’ve really pushed the anti-bullying here the last several years. I really think it’s working,” added Johnson.
“She always says ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye.’ And she’s like, ‘Have a good weekend.’ So, I think that’s really nice because a lot of bus drivers would be like, ‘Bye. I don’t want to see you again,'” said sixth-grader Ivy Goering.
So, has Gail given any thought to driving until she hits 50 years?
“Well yeah, I would like to make it to 50, and of course, it always depends on how healthy you are and whether the weather is a lot of it too. That plays into it. Seems like these cold winters are getting a little harder on the bones,” said Johnson. “It kind of gives me something to do. It gets me up in the morning. Keeps me young-feeling, you know.”
Johnson is an avid collector of school buses. She has a room in her home with over a 1,000 buses on display, from Matchbox cars to much bigger buses to many in between.