August 2, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.

Ritter relishes 45-year bus driving ride

Retired Albany school staff Heritage Day grand marshal

By CAROL MOORMAN | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Eileen Ritter rode the bus to school when she attended Albany Area Schools, graduating in 1963. Fourteen years later, she started driving bus for the Albany School District, retiring in December 2022, after 45 years. 

Her husband, LeRoy, who started driving bus the same time she did, continues, while farming south of Avon, where Eileen enjoys hobbies, like quilting and vegetable and flower gardening. 

“I enjoyed seeing the children every day,” she said on July 26 of her bus driving days. “At the end, I had some of their grandchildren.”

The Saturday, Aug. 5, Heritage Day Parade grand marshal for the Purple Pride theme is all retired Albany school district staff. The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce chooses the grand marshal related to the theme. Any retired staff members who would like to ride on the grand marshal float are encouraged to be at the school parking lot by 6:30 p.m.  

“Something to do, and I suppose maybe extra income,” was Eileen’s answer when asked why she started driving bus in January 1977.

Growing up on a farm, Eileen drove trucks and tractors.

“But never anything as big as a bus,” she said. 

Eileen said her aunt, Mary Rausch, was the first female bus driver in the Albany School District. 

Like today, back then, the school district owned the fleet of buses.

“When I started we had no radios (for communication) in the bus, and in the winter we got a 5-gallon bucket of sand and a scoop shovel. When we got stuck the procedure was you sent two reliable children to the closest place, and I had to stay with the bus,” she said. “I never had to do that, though.”

Oftentimes, a neighbor or someone would drive by and help get the bus going again.  

Eileen has photos of the estimated six buses she drove over the years.

“I had a few new buses in my lifetime,” she said. 

For the first 20 years, the buses were stick shifts, “before we got automatics,” she said. 

The addition of radios were a plus, and after the pandemic buses had cameras installed.  

“You have to keep your eyes on the road, and every once in a while glance at the kids through the (overhead) mirror,” Eileen said, when asked how a driver controls a big bus. 

Every four years bus drivers take a written test, and every two years they receive a physical. 

She has driven through fog, thunderstorms, snow and ice. Ice-covered roads were the most challenging, she said. 

“You slow down, definitely,’’ Eileen said. 

She won’t forget one icy road incident. School was two hours late, due to the ice, with the understanding roads would be sanded. 

“I started driving the bus. I turned onto one road and got to the top of a hill and thought, ‘Oh, no, there’s no sand here.’ There was no place to turn around. At the time, I was driving a stick shift, so I shifted it to the lower gear, going 10 miles per hour. I thought I was OK, but then the back of the bus came around, and I was going down the hill backwards. It was coming around again, then it stopped crossways in the road,” she said. “I got a tow truck to pull me up the hill. I was late but on my way again.” 

Her bus routes changed over the years, and she also drove some extracurricular routes.   

She picked up her first student around 7 a.m. during her hour-long school day morning route, and dropped them off at home after school.  At the end of the school day route, she checked her bus to make sure all of the children were off of the bus. 

 “Most routes were about 1,000 to 1,200 miles a month,” Eileen said.  

LeRoy was her substitute driver until they sold their dairy cows in 1991 and he drove his own bus route. 

Every school day, before her morning route, Eileen did a pre-trip inspection of her bus, checking the oil, lights and tires. 

“I had a pipe in the garage that I used for my 45 years, hitting the back tires, the duals, to make sure they weren’t flat,” she said.   

She still has that pipe – a fond reminder of her bus driving days.  

Since Eileen enjoyed driving bus, retiring was with a “heavy heart,” she wrote in her Dec. 26, 2022, resignation letter. 

“It was a good ride,” she wrote. 


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