Nancy Schulz, Gardner, has been in the student transportation business since 1967.
She started her career as a school bus driver in the Gardner area when she was asked to fill in for another driver.
Schulz said she got the job because she knew how to drive farm trucks and because she had experience as a youth coach.
“I didn’t apply for a job,” she said. “They called me and asked me to help them out. I had never been on a school bus before. The gentleman who was our supervisor, Mr. Westhoff, knew I could handle the bus because I drove a big grain truck loaded with grain. I also coached ball and had grade school and middle school kids.”
Her career led her to training other drivers and specializing in safety. She now works as manager of the First Student Kansas City Metro Training Center.
Schulz, who is retiring this fall, was honored by the Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association (KSPTA) for 44 years of dedicated service to student transportation and safety.
She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the KSPTA last week.
“It was very humbling,” Schulz said. “I was very surprised by it because I went to the awards dinner that night not knowing that I was going to get an award.”
From her beginnings as a school bus driver to serving on student safety transportation boards to training other drivers, Schulz’ career focus has always been on student safety.
She served as the first woman president of the KSPTA for four years, as secretary for eight years, and traveled the country training other drivers to improve transportation safety.
Schulz has written or co-written four safety manuals and also has been active in school bus driver safety competitions for many years.
The competitions include defensive driving, first aid and CPR, obstacle courses, loading and unloading, parallel parking and a railroad crossing.
“They were once known as ‘school bus rodeos’ but we have changed the name to ‘safety competition’ because that is what it is,” she said. “We teach them to be safer drivers.”
Schulz has fond memories of her days as a school bus driver in Gardner.
At that time the school district had only one elementary school – Gardner Elementary.
“My first route took me into the country, around Gardner Lake and also to the trailer court (Conestoga),” she said. “I did that for four or five years, then I started driving more in Northwest.
“Gardner was small enough at that time that I knew everybody’s parents. Now we are a bigger community. And many parents work all the time.”
School bus safety has also evolved over the years.
“I was just given a set of keys,” Schulz said. “Nowadays we train the drivers. And there is so much difference in the way busses are built. Ours were all stick shift, and here in Gardner we drove the two-speed. Now everything is automatic. The seats are built to be more protective of students. No bare metal.”
Schulz said the most rewarding part of her career is knowing she has helped keep students safe.
“What I have really enjoyed most – I loved the kids,” she said. “I just loved working with them. It was such a pleasure to take them to and from school. It was even more fun to take them on their activity trips.”
Schulz’s work as manager of First Student’s training center spans the entire metro area, training all new drivers and providing ongoing training for experienced drivers.
Gini Lively, a long time friend of Schulz, said she was very deserving of the Lifetime Achievement award.
Liveley said Schulz was like a “second mother” to her daughter Janie Boyer.
“She always has a smile on her face and is ready to give you a hug whenever you see her,” Liveley said. “She was very involved with kids throughout taking them on baseball or softball trips. She is a very giving person.”
“She is a mother to all,” she said. “She loved and disciplined me just like one of her own flesh and blood. When Nancy walked into a room there was a strong presence of love and laughter. She beams when she walks into a room. You know she is there.”
Mayrene Norris said one of Schulz’s most endearing accomplishments was the establishment of an American-Canadian girls softball exchange program.
She said Schulz drove Gardner girls to play in Canada and arranged to have Canadian girls visit Gardner to play.
“That was a wonderful thing she did back then,” Norris said. “Our girls stayed with host families in Canada, and the Canadian girls stayed with host families here.”