GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — John Benish, Jr., the chief operating officer of school bus contractor Cook-Illinois Corporation near Chicago, received the annual STN Leadership Award last night during the NAPT Summit Awards Banquet.
Benish (left in photo with STN Publisher Tony Corpin), who received a standing ovation after being announced by STN Publisher Tony Corpin, operates the family-run business that oversees 20 subsidiary companies that bus some 200,000 students across Chicagoland each school day. Benish, who often serves as a substitute school bus driver, was recognized for how he runs the family business and support he provides the student transportation industry. He serves on the board of national advisors for the National Conference on Transporting Students with Disabilities and Preschoolers (TSD) and is a regular presenter at state and local conferences. He also attends major conferences nationwide as an attendee.
Editor's note: STN Media, the operating company of School Transportation News, owns the TSD Conference.
Other award winners Sunday night included Alexandra Robinson, outgoing NAPT president who received the association's Distinguished Service Award for serving on the NAPT Board for 10 years. She also oversaw NAPT's objective of global outreach that has resulted in strategic partnerships with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China.
Lydia Hancock accepted the Blue Bird Heroism Award for her father Chuck Poland, Jr., who was murdered on board his Dale County, Ala., school bus in January by trespassor Jimmy Lee Dykes. Dykes boarded the bus at gun point and demanded that Poland hand over two young children of the 21 students on board the afternoon of Jan. 29. Poland refused and stood between the gunman and the students.
Dykes then shot Poland four times and fled with a 5-year-old boy with Autism and hid in an underground shelter. A week later, after hostage negotians with the FBI broke down, special forces stormed the bunker, killed Dykes and rescued the boy.
"Today, we as an industry, honor Charles Poland for his heroic and selfless actions that ensured the safety and security of the students on board his bus," said Rusty Mitchell, director of product management at Blue Bird, who presented the award to Lydia Hancock and husband Glenn.
Dinner attendees also heard from Sarah Flores, a senior at Temple (Texas) High School, who recited her winning speech from the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation School Bus Safety Poster Contest. Sarah's sister Ariana, who is currently attending Baylor University Law School, won the same competition two years ago.
Other awards given Sunday night were:
- Bob Rubin Award to Bob Rubin, who recently retired from Easy Way Safety Services and long-time supporter of NAPT
- School Bus Driver Training & Safety Award (sponsored by IC Bus) to Carl Cater, Allen (Texas) Independent School District
- Special Needs Transportation Award (sponsored by Sure-Lok) Dr. Linda Bluth of the Maryland State Department of Education and past NAPT president
- Continuing Education Award (sponsored by Thomas Built Buses) Donelda Williams of Independence (Mo.) School District
- School Bus Fleet Administrator of the Year Alfred Karam of Bethlehem Central School District in Delmar, N.Y.
- 2013 America’s Best School Bus Technician (sponsored by Hydrotex) Patrick Maloney of Douglas County School District in Castle Rock, Colo.
- 2013 America’s Best School Bus Inspector (sponsored by Zonar) Casey Middleton of Tulsa (Okla.) Public Schools