HomeNewsObituary: Myrtle Paige, Co-Founder of School Bus Contractor Paige Bus Enterprises

Obituary: Myrtle Paige, Co-Founder of School Bus Contractor Paige Bus Enterprises

Myrtle Paige, who co-founded Paige Bus Enterprises with husband Walter in 1970, died Jan. 14. She was 82.

Paige Bus Enterprises is a medium-sized, formerly family-owned school bus contracting business that transports about 7,000 students daily, employs 200 people, operates 140 route buses and occupies a 13-acre facility in the heart of Riverdale, Ill., located a couple of miles south of downtown Chicago. About five years ago Paige Bus was purchased by Cook-Illinois Corp. — the largest student transportation company serving the Chicago area and one of the largest in the nation – yet continues to operate independently.

Mrs. Paige took the helm of Paige Bus Enterprises after her husband’s death in 1989 and retired in 1998. Phillip Paige, former president and CEO at Paige Bus, remains a consultant for both the company and owner Cook-Illinois but also has his own business, Phil’s Limousines. Brother Keith is now operational manager at Cook-Illinois. Sister Erica is charter manager for Paige Bus, while another sister, Michelle Paige Wynn, branched off with her husband to launch a small school bus company, Wynn Transportation, also in the Chicago area.

Phil told School Transportation News he is very proud of his strong, courageous mother and what she brought to the student transportation industry as well as the local community.

“My mother was a quiet and behind-the-scenes but very strong entrepreneur. She was the glue that kept our company and our family together through the ups and downs of a startup company,” Phil said. “She instilled all of her values in her children and taught us how to operate — always emphasizing doing it the right way, no shortcuts to safety.”

“She was honest and very religious in her upbringing of not only her children but also her extended family — and our employees were also part of our extended family,” he continued.

Walter and Myrtle launched Paige Transportation in 1970 to provide transportation service for domestic workers who needed to get from their homes on the south side of Chicago to jobs downtown, to O’Hare Airport and to the more affluent north-side suburbs. After a recession hit  that decade, domestic workers lost their jobs in droves and business dried up. But in 1973 the company landed its first subcontract with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to provide transportation to special needs students.

“Special needs kids in our area were underserved,” Phil recalled. “The reason was because parents were having trouble taking these kids in their cars that weren’t wheelchair equipped. We realized there wasn’t enough money in it (special needs transportation) for the larger contractor companies … So we got the kids that nobody else wanted.”

The startup operation found its niche when it began serving the infamous “projects” on the south side of Chicago. Phil said his father and a bus attendant would have to walk up 16 flights of stairs and carry children all the way down in their wheelchairs because the elevators did not work.

“That’s how we got paid, based on the numbers of kids that we got to school each day. So that’s how the business started,” said Phil, who joined the family business that same year.

Paige Bus soon expanded, winning contracts to provide regular pupil transportation to CPS, and school bus service extended into the suburbs as well as the city. Among its numerous service and fleet safety records, the company has won two prestigious awards from the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), according to current President Magda Dimmendaal.

“Paige Bus Enterprises was a valued member of NSTA, and they received the coveted Golden Merit Award in 1998. They were also named School Bus Fleet Contractor of the Year in 2001,” Dimmendaal said. “Phil Paige was very involved in the association. While I never had the pleasure of meeting his mother, Myrtle, I can attest that she obviously instilled the core values of honesty, integrity and work ethic in her son, Phillip.”

“I am honored that the national association is remembering my mom for her contributions to the industry,” Phil added.

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