Kirk Dougal/Times Bulletin
Kirk Dougal/Times Bulletin
BY KIRK DOUGAL

Times Bulletin Editor

kdougal@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - To call Bob Edinger only a bus driver would be a little disingenuous. Of the 51 years that he has spent involved with the education system as a chemistry teacher, head football coach, and athletic director, he has only been behind the wheel of a school bus for the last 11 years. It does, however, illustrate just how much he has dedicated himself to students over the years.

Driving a school bus was not originally in Edinger's plan after he retired from teaching in 1998. But he said it only took about three months for his wife to grow tired of his pacing back and forth during the day at home before she suggested he give it a try.

"The school called one day and asked if I would come back as a chemistry teacher again after Tim (Giffin) passed away. I jokingly asked if I would have to grade papers and they said 'yes' so I said 'no.' The next day they called and asked if I would drive the multiple-handicap bus. I said 'no.' My wife said 'yes,'" he said with a laugh. He said she could tell he felt a little like an old horse being put out to pasture too soon. She had been an aide on the bus previously and knew that he would like the work.

Not all of the students on his route are special needs. He also has the siblings of those students plus a handful of other kids who have been placed there because of behavioral issues. But he discovered his ideas about special needs children changed quickly.

Having taught chemistry to students for many years who would be considered academically at the upper end of their classes, he did not know quite what to expect. Once he started, however, he said it was very easy to respect the kids on his route and the way they tackled their problems.

He finds them to be the most honest kids that anyone could ever hope to be associated with and that they only want to be treated with the same respect that any person would want.

But that does not mean Edinger has not had a few wild stories over the years. One involved a young man who said he did not want to go to school on a particular day. When Edinger arrived to pick him up with the bus, the student was on the roof of his house - in his underwear. Edinger said all he needed to do was tell the boy it was time to go and he went inside, grabbed some clothes, and then got on the bus - where he proceeded to dress for school.

One item he said has helped him over the years is that he has always had an aide for his bus, just like his wife had been before he started driving. Edinger is a big proponent of the idea for all buses, not just the special needs vehicles. He feels the aide allows him to keep 100 percent of his concentration on his driving while they handled the students in the back. He believes that to be a much safer procedure than keeping one eye on the road and one eye in the mirror on the students. He praised the performance of his aides over the years but could only laugh when asked if his wife had worked with him.

"She substituted once or twice," he said with a shake of his head. "But that's about all she could take of me."

Edinger wanted to make sure the public did not get the wrong idea about the students today. He does not believe the children have changed much over his half-century career. He agreed the trappings around the students may be different - cell phones and texting replacing passing notes, for instance - but the underlying core of the kids are basically the same. That is also why his answer came so quickly when asked about the best part of driving a school bus.

"The kids, the kids," he said. "I know it sounds corny but that route when I first started was also a preschool route. I've had some of these kids since they were five years-old. Now they are juniors and seniors so I have grown up with some of these kids. I am the first person they see every day that represents the school. And I am the last person they see every day that represents the school." Because of the nature of the students involved, he said he not only knows the kids, but he knows all their parents and families. He said he sees a closer relationship with them than he did when he was in the classroom.

"I am going to miss them," he said.

Edinger has already announced he will be retiring, again, at the end of the year. And just like before when it was his wife's help that convinced him to drive the school bus, she was involved with this decision as well.

"It's just the opposite now," he said with another laugh. "Now she wants me to come home." He did, however, leave open the possibility to continue to do some substituting on his route.

Because, Edinger knows there will still be students on the bus.