Vandalia Leader

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A letter to Jeannie Spires on her retirement

Posted on Wednesday, December 25, 2019 at 10:47 am

Dear Jeannie

By Clay Coleman

Jeannie Spires tells me a story about getting caught in a snow drift with kids in the back of her school bus, and I start laughing. I wouldn’t say at her because even though we had a lousy connection, we were both laughing on the phone as she related stories about her time as a bus driver for Van-Far School District.
She recalls another funny story and tells me about the last day she drove a school bus. Most of her favorites, the younger kids, sit close to her while she drives. On the day of her retirement, a second-grader leans over and hands her a card with 10 signatures on it and says, “There would be more, but I couldn’t get the little ones to sign it.”
Spires is a hard person to get ahold of; she runs a kennel, raising puppies in her off time, so the only way to reach her was by phone.
“It’s the roof,” she laughs as she cuts in and out, “let me move over to the window.” We both start laughing again. “I’ve driven a school bus for Van-Far for 22 years,” she tells me when the connection finally settles down. “Besides driving a school bus, I raised four children, took in my sister’s kids after she passed away, I take care of a grandson, and have a husband who’s been retired for two years.”
I ask her what her plans are now that she’s retired. “I have a trike,” she laughs, “We plan on doing a lot of riding.”
Just by hearing her voice, I know Spires is a comedian. Other than getting my jokes, she’s full of funny stories. When we first started talking, she seemed almost nervous, humble, if that makes any sense, but her tone brightened when we started talking about her kids.
“Little kindergartners, first graders, and you’re not sure where their house is, and you’re like, ‘Ok, we’re on your street. Can you see your house?’ These kids have no idea where they come from.”
She doesn’t stop there.
“The worst is when you get a note saying take them to grandma’s house. Where’s grandma’s house?” We laugh hysterically and agree it’s not that hard. There are only five last names in the whole county.
I’ve got stories to write, and Spires has puppies to look after, so I start to wrap it up. I asked her what her last day meant to her, and I hear the emotion rise in her voice. “I love kids,” she tells me. “You have a relationship with the kids. They are my best friends. I cried the whole way to the bus park.
“She finishes up by telling me about the card her kids gave to her and that a farmer’s tractor pulled her bus out of the drift that day. Then we hang up.
Now you must excuse the transition into the third person, to the peril of editors everywhere, but I feel safe in doing so because we in the press are parents, too. We have children and grandchildren riding the school bus. We shamelessly entrust their care into someone else’s hands every day. And Jeannie, if the press is a reflection of our community as a whole, then thank you for taking care of our children. Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for safeguarding what we love most of all. You should be celebrated every day.
Congratulations on making the front page!
With love,
Vandalia.