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Archive for May 23rd, 2007

A quick-hit but high-impact profile

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

I know I chose the right profession on days like yesterday. Days when I encounter someone I’d love to just take for coffee and talk about everything they’ve seen or experienced, days when I feel privileged to be in the company of some very interesting people.

No it wasn’t a dignitary or a politician. It wasn’t a basketball star or anyone famous. It was a bus driver. A guy whose length of service is more than twice my life, and whose matter-of-fact humor and story-telling ability made me wish (even more than usual) I had more than 10 inches to write the story. But ah las, that’s what I got. Reading the story today, I am almost glad. It forced me to choose only my best anecdotes and to get the impact he had on the community out there quickly. I think I succeeded.

I posted the story on the clips page because I really like it. Sadly, though it’s dominant on local in print, it didn’t make the front of the J&C site today, so the likelihood of people seeing it online drops about 99 percent. So, I’m going to post part of it here…

Bus wheels go ’round for 45 years


ATTICA — When Attica Elementary School second-grader Austin Ross heard bus driver Russell Serie was retiring, his response was immediate: “Russell, are you really leaving?”

Followed quickly by a sigh and, “Who’s going to drive us?”

When the school district began busing students in the 1960s, Serie was one of the first people to sign up for a route.

Back then it was for the extra $7.50 a day. But for the past 30 years or so, it’s just been because Serie, who owns a farm and a lumber business, likes working with the kids.

Serie, 68, will retire Thursday after 45 years of service, during which time he missed only eight days.

“I’m not sad,” Serie said. “But I will miss it. I’ll miss it big time.”

But Serie said he wanted to be sure to leave the job he loved on his own terms. He said lately his legs have been bothering him a bit more, and he’s ready to hang up his days of shuttling children to the city’s east side and handing out Tootsie Rolls as they get off the bus.

He said he’s going to miss getting to know the kids and their families. He’s driving students now whose parents and grandparents used to ride his bus.

He’ll also miss driving the football and basketball teams. The highlight of his career was the night he drove the basketball team home from winning the state championship in 2001 and delivered them to a packed gymnasium.

“Josh Smith, our champion player, wanted to present me with the game ball,” Serie said. “You could have knocked me over. I probably had tears in my eyes.”

(The whole story is at the J&C)

This also was one of those cases where I wished I could empty my notebook with all the details I had. The grandparents sending off their kids. Serie’s neighbors who have sent four kids on his bus and the fifth who next year won’t get the privilege. The student whose life he impacted by helping her through a drug problem when he was her only trusted adult. The 5-pound Tootsie Roll bag he keeps stashed under the dash, which he easily goes through each week. The sad realization that the name painted on the side of his bus for the last several decades will, after this week, be another’s name for the first time ever. And so much more. Choosing the details (or in some cases amount of detail) and anecdotes to include was difficult, but the story pretty much wrote itself. It’s impossible to sum up a career in 10 inches, but I think you get the idea of the impact this driver made.