When Pansy Covington climbed into her school bus yesterday (Wednesday) and headed towards McCreary’s Ridge and Red Hog Pike, it was both a beginning and an end.
With the start of this school year, it marks 50 years that Pansy has been driving a bus for the school corporation — in fact, her service mirrors the Switzerland County School Corporation, which came into being when Vevay and Patriot High Schools merged.
Since 1969 she has safely delivered children to school — but after a half a century of service, the 2019-2020 school year will be her last.
“I took over Olive Ricketts’ route in 1969; and later on I had an express route to Vevay,” Pansy said. “One year I didn’t get the bid on the express route, but Nadine Hankinson, she didn’t get her bid, so she let me have the express route. I went to Vevay for a lot of years.”
Currently she drives McCreary’r Ridge and Red Hog Pike, a route that she’s navigated for five decades. In the years before Switzerland County Elementary School was created — her service pre-dates the opening of the school by a decade — Pansy drove students to the school at Allensville.
“The express route was down to Vevay,” she said. “I’d drop the elementary kids off at Allensville, and then take the junior high and high school kids on down to Vevay. Today they’ve got three buses from East Enterprise that run down to Vevay now.”
Her current bus route begins each morning at 6:10 a.m., giving herself enough time to get the children to school in time to unload at 7:20 a.m. so they can have breakfast, and covers about 15 miles in the morning and another 15 in the afternoon. Her afternoon drive begins at about 3:30 p.m., after students come from the middle school and high school to transfer onto her bus.
Using a 30 mile day as a guide, and considering a school year is 180 days, not figuring in the express routes in the early days, Pansy would drive 5,400 miles during a school year. Multiply that over her 50 year career, and she’s put about 270,000 miles on the seven different buses that she’s owned.
“That’s quite a bit, isn’t it?” she says with a laugh. “Like Donnie (husband Donnie Covington) says, I’ve hauled kids, and then I see their kids and now their grandkids.”
With those students who have the ability to drive themselves to school each day, it’s hard to get a firm number of students who ride each morning, but Pansy estimates that if all of the children who were on her route chose to ride the bus, there would be 50-55 students.
Pansy is proud to say that she’s only had to be towed in twice in her 50 years — both by her tow truck driving husband.
“One day we started to Vevay, and the ice was so thick, they turned us around at Vevay Hill,” she recalled. “When I got back over here by Joe Deck’s I went into the ditch and Donnie had to come and get me.”
She was also driving in 1974 when the tornado came through the county.
“I was driving, but I didn’t have no trouble,” Pansy said. “Donnie said he was so glad to see that bus come down the road that night. He said I probably broke the speed limit, but I didn’t have any kids on there.”
Pansy owns her own bus, noting that there’s also been a lot of changes in the buses themselves over five decades.
“This one I’ve got now is so tall,” she said. “When you’re in a storm it feels like it could go over. It’s a lot taller than the old ones were.”
Pansy grew up around East Enterprise, the daughter of Churchill and Velma (Peelman) Scudder. Her father was a farmer and also worked for the County Highway Department.
She met Donnie when they were both at the Allensville school, laughing as she recalled how he used to chase her around the schoolhouse yard. The two were married in 1956 — celebrating 63 years this years.
The couple have three sons, with Pansy noting that they also lost a son in 1959; but sons Joe, Mark and Brian all still live near their parents.
So how’s bus driving changed over her 50 years?
“Oh, I don’t know how to explain it, but you can really see a difference now with the kids compared to when I first started. Things are a lot different. It was not too bad a long time ago.”
As she retires, Pansy plans on watching her great-grandchildren and otherwise taking it easy. She says that she and Donnie aren’t much for traveling, so they’ll just stay at their home place near East Enterprise.
“It’s been a long time, that’s for sure,” she smiled. “I think I’ve done a pretty good job.”