Thomas Built honors retired Alabama school bus driver

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Joyce St. John, who recently retired after 42 years driving Morgan County school buses in Decatur, Ala., was named 2011 Children’s Choice School Bus Driver of the Year by Thomas Built Buses.

Ten-year-old Mauriene nominated St. John, calling the veteran driver “the best bus driver in the world.” Her mother and four siblings also were driven to school by St. John, who paid special attention to children with medical problems, “taught us manners” and expected riders to help keep the bus clean. The fifth grader wrote: “She’s like my grandmother, and I even call her Nana sometimes.”

As the 2011 grand prize winning driver, St. John will receive a $1,000 Visa gift card. The nominating student will receive a $1,000 education savings bond and a laptop computer. Both also will receive Thomas Built Buses jackets and lunch boxes.

Jim Merritt, Warsaw Community Schools, Warsaw, Ind., was named runner-up. Merritt was nominated by Shannon, a sixth grader at Harris Elementary School, who wrote that Merritt reassures parents, teaches rider etiquette with “student of the day” and is someone she looks forward to seeing every morning.

To qualify, drivers were required to have a minimum of five years of experience; however, judges felt the nominations for two finalist entries deserved honorable mentions. Evans Okoduwa, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, Charlotte, N.C., has been a driver for two years and was nominated by Dailyn, a sixth grader at Northeast Middle School, for his heroic actions dealing with an armed student. With four years of industry experience, also receiving honorable mention was Thomas “Skip” Pillow, Reynolds School District, Fairview, Ore., who was nominated by Cristina, a fourth grader at Woodland Elementary School. Christina said Pillow was “like an eagle, always alert.”

Students and drivers receiving runner-up and honorable mention recognition will receive Thomas Built jackets and lunch boxes.

Now in its sixth year, the contest was initiated as part of Thomas Built Buses 90th anniversary celebration in 2005. Since then, thousands of children have nominated their favorite bus driver in 90-word essays that often include original artwork and photos of themselves with their drivers.

Essays were judged for content and originality by representatives of the National Student Transportation Association and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services, members of the press and a Thomas Built Buses employee. The winning entries may be viewed at www.thomasbus.com/contest.

“As a school bus manufacturer, we strive to build a bus that will provide safe, reliable access to education, but we know an important safety feature on any school bus is the person behind the wheel,” says Kelley Platt, Thomas Built president and chief executive officer. “This contest is a way for us to thank the school bus drivers who take good care of the precious cargo on each bus, and to recognize the importance of their role in students’ lives.”