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Bus driver Barb Thomsen celebrated 50 years as a bus driver May 29. (Photo by Alicia Lebens)

Bus driver Barb Thomsen doesn’t need a map of the Stillwater Area School District. After 50 years of driving over 800,000 students and over 500,000 miles, Thomsen knows each and every road, street and avenue. As she greets each student with a smile, Thomsen knows which days a kindergartner goes to daycare after school, which stops she needs to wait a little bit longer for the latecomers, and which students were wished off to school by a parent she drove to school long before.

“We are the first people that the kids see that day,” Thomsen said. “It makes a difference knowing they were greeted by a smile and someone who cares for them.”

The bus terminal break room has always been a gathering of family and friends for Thomsen. Her aunt was a bus driver and was later joined by her dad and several other relatives — her husband now drivers a school bus too. Ask around the room and there are many drivers who have worked 20, 30 even 40 years for the Stillwater Area School District.

“Many of us have been here for a long time, raised our kids together, see each other every day for years,” Thomsen said.

Bus driver Jackie Savage first met Thomsen when she was just starting junior high; Thomsen was her bus driver.

“I lived in Bayport so I walked to school while I was in elementary,” Savage said. “It was my first time riding the bus.”

Savage quickly bonded with Thomsen, helping out with counting students and keeping her eyes open a blind corners.

“In eighth grade, I asked Barb to help me with an assignment to write a resume to be a bus driver,” Savage said. “I got an A.”

After graduation, Savage didn’t know what she wanted to go to work for but knew she didn’t want to be “cooped up inside.”

“I got a call from the bus garage, they said they found an old resume in some files and wondered if I still wanted the job,” Savage said. “That was 40 years ago.”

Over the years, Thomsen would drive the Pony football team to away games and take classes to countless field trips. Professionally, Thomsen has a scrapbook full of annual safety awards and appreciation certificates. Her high visibility vest looks like more a scout’s vest; decorated with pins to show her many years of service. At a celebration held in her honor May 29, Thomsen was presented with a special 50-year pin featuring a diamond.

“It’s been a good job,” Thomsen said. “I have worked with some fantastic people.”

A few years ago, Thomsen attempted to step back to be a more casual driver, filling in where needed. However, there is a bus driver shortage not just in Stillwater but across the state.

“I ended up driving every day anyway,” Thomsen said. “I would say that it is a great part time job for retired people looking for some extra spending money or a mom looking to have similar hours as her kids in school.”

While she isn’t looking to add another 50 years of service, Thomsen plans to continue to driver her school bus next year.

Contact Alicia Lebens at alicia.lebens@ecm-inc.com

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