The Daily Inter Lake in Montana tells the story of Francis (Fran) and Jan VanRinsum, who retired this year after over 106 combined years of driving school buses for over 1 million miles.
Fran began driving school buses 56 years ago to supplement income from the family farm. His wife Jan joined him six years later, when the farm expanded and required more work.
Jan related the difficulties she overcame, as Fran taught her how to drive old buses with no power steering, change tires, and navigate through snow drifts that could stand up to four feet high. Both owned their own buses at first, but spent the last 14 years driving for Treasure State Transit.
Both drivers stated that remaining seated throughout the ride was the number one safety rule on their buses, but they were forced to develop a set of 10 written rules when students requested them. Those rules were posted at the front of the bus and said that punishment would be at the discretion of the driver.
One student questioned what discretion meant and her friend suggested “‘I think it was something we did in biology,’” Fran related with a laugh.
The rapport and relationships built with the students was something both Fran and Jan said they enjoyed.
Jan would make an ice cream stop once a month as a treat, and Fran’s route took his bus past a Dairy Queen location.
“One kid said it would be nice if we could get an ice cream cone. I said, ‘Do you guys want to stop every Friday night? It will take 10 more minutes to get home,’” Fran remembered. “They didn’t care.”
He took care to caution his teenage students that they could not go home with a friend but must get right back on the bus so he could deliver them home.
“This is one thing where we were kind of sticking our necks out because once the kids are on the bus we have to take them home,” Fran said. But every student followed his directions and returned to the school bus.
One 14-year-old student Jan drove expressed a desire to drop out of school, but Jan talked her into staying for “another week,” an arrangement that went on for a year. She began improving and soon joined the ROTC.
“She was doing very well. We always talked and I always asked how things were,” said Jan. “To make a long story short, she graduated from high school, was No. 1 in ROTC, went into the service maybe 15, 18 years ago and is doing very well.”
Fran also received the School Bus Driver of the Year award from the Montana Highway Patrol and Office of Public Instruction. Over the years, he was active in school bus safety at the state level and trained other drivers in bus fire safety.
When people would ask if they were happy to have a break from “those brats” over the summer, the couple took exception to such characterization of their students.
“We always say, ‘You know, they’re not brats,’” Jan said. “You only hear about the 1 percent. You never hear about the 99 who are absolutely fantastic. But with that 1 percent, you haven’t walked in their shoes. And you don’t know what the circumstances are.”
“You know, we’re not just their bus driver. Especially today, you can be their mom, their dad, their counselor, their teacher and a friend,” she added. “There’s some kids who get up in the morning and they see no one. You’re the first person.”
Friends and coworkers commented on the article to wish the VanRinsums well.
“Congratulations on your retirement!” Said a commenter who added that she rode the couple’s buses in the late 1980’s. “Thanks for being a great way to start the morning and end the afternoon.”