September 6, 2023 at 6:00 a.m.
Rodney Ebnet has spent most days over the past 28 years behind the wheel of a Holdingford school bus, transporting students to school as the sun rises and back home after a day of learning.
Throughout his tenure, Ebnet has cemented himself as a Holdingford icon by providing consistent service to three decades of local youth.
Ebnet’s dedication to his job and community was recognized at a state-wide level in front of an audience full of his colleagues and friends July 27 at River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud as he was named the 2023 Administrator of the Year by the Minnesota Association for Pupil Transportation.
As the transportation director of a small district-owned fleet consisting of 18 buses and four vans, his list of day-to-day responsibilities includes bus maintenance, routing, training and driving – among a handful of other duties required to keep the wheels on the bus turning.
In the words of Holdingford Superintendent Chris Swenson, Ebnet truly bleeds Husker Green. He grew up in Holdingford, graduated from Holdingford High School in 1983, has worked for Holdingford Public Schools for nearly the entirety of his adult life and calls the area his home.
“Rodney is a consummate professional,” Swenson said. “He has been part of this community forever. Anybody that has kids ride the bus will have glowing things to say about Rodney.”
Ebnet’s career as the district’s transportation director was foreshadowed by an experience when he was a Holdingford student on a ride home from his bus driver, Kathy Welle – now one of his coworkers. He failed to alert Welle that she passed by his house, and he stuck around for the ride as Welle dropped his classmates off at home.
“I stayed on the bus the whole route, then she dropped me off on the way back,” Ebnet said. “Being a bus driver for years, I should’ve spoken up and said, ‘Kathy, you missed my spot.’ But I didn’t; I just rode around with her to see what the countryside looked like.”
After graduating from high school, he pursued a technical degree in maintenance of heavy trucking equipment. It wasn’t long before he returned to his alma mater, eyeing his current position as a long-term career.
“I can honestly say this was my dream job,” Ebnet said. “The previous transportation director that was here, I knew he was planning to retire, and I just waited for the opportunity. When he retired, I applied.”
Holdingford Elementary School teacher Jim Stang said Ebnet has made a significant impact on students and staff since he joined the crew in 1995.
“Somehow, between fixing buses, working with children, drivers and families, Rodney finds time to visit the elementary and high school connecting with staff and students,” Stang wrote of Ebnet in a nomination letter to the MAPT. “His positive outlook on life and his kind, caring heart, coupled with his sincerity, brings joy to our schools.”
Twelve years ago, Ebnet joined the district’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports team, helping define the Husker High Five – now a standard practice of students and staff to provide positive reinforcement to students.
“This year, Rodney partnered with our school social worker, school psychologist and elementary principal, carving out RTI (Response to Intervention) time to meet with bus drivers to create improvement plans, celebrate and recognize children that go above and beyond as bus friends and riders,” Stang wrote.
Ebnet said it was an honor to represent his hometown district and receive the Administrator of the Year award.
“It was awesome for me to receive it as part of a smaller school district,” Ebnet said. “I don’t think our smaller school districts get the recognition that we need because we are not that big and well known.”
Despite snowstorms, downpours, the occasional difficult roads and other challenges, Ebnet says he hopes to continue serving students from the front of the bus for many years to come.