20 Fascinating Personalities (Part 4)

<i>SBF</i> staff editors Steve Hirano, Thomas McMahon and Albert Neal
Posted on November 1, 2005
Karen Strickland and her dog, Jody, enjoy a moment in the great outdoors.
Karen Strickland and her dog, Jody, enjoy a moment in the great outdoors.

Karen Strickland

General Manager of Transportation, School District of Hillsborough County (Fla.)

Born: Pompton Plains, N.J.
Home: Plant City, Fla.
Years in industry: 23
Notable previous jobs: I worked as an office manager for an auto glass distributor. One job I’ll never forget: driving students to and from school.

How did you get your start in the industry?
I started out with a side job as a bus driver. I transported students for three-and-a-half years, after which I applied for a routing supervisor position and got the job.

Current job duties?
I’m the general manager of transportation at the School District of Hillsborough County. With the help of key individuals, we transport more than 90,000 students twice daily. Our department consists of approximately 1,500 employees, including mechanics, custodians, bus drivers, bus attendants, clerical staff members and supervisors.

Top achievements in life?
Our district respects and supports our department. This has been achieved by becoming accountable and successful in designing and implementing strategic goals for the district.

Outside interests?
I love to read. However, often there is little time to do so.

Favorite book or movie?
My favorite book is Sacagawea by Marion Marsh Brown. She was so courageous. What an endeavor for her to lead Lewis and Clark through their expeditions!

Most interesting place you’ve been?
Several years ago, my husband and I traveled to the Grand Canyon. It was the first time I saw this magnificent work of art. Unbelievable!

Strangest job you’ve had?
While in college, I worked at the Jolly Green Giant plant processing corn. We worked 12 hour shifts, rotating between night and day shifts every two weeks. The day of the shift change, we worked 18 hours. For years afterward, I hated corn!

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
People are surprised to learn that I’m an antique car enthusiast. My husband and I enjoy going to car shows with his 1926 Ford one-ton truck.



Leonard Swilley took a job as a school bus driver during college. He's been involved in pupil transportation ever since.

Leonard C. Swilley, Sr.

State Director of Pupil Transportation, Mississippi Department of Education

Born: Flint, Mich.
Home: Jackson, Miss.
Years in industry: 18
Notable previous jobs: School bus driver, mechanic’s assistant, dispatcher, assistant supervisor (local terminal), supervisor (local terminal), store clerk and shoe salesman.

How did you get your start in the industry?
I was a college student with limited finances and a lot of spare time. My roommate encouraged me to drive a school bus since it wouldn’t interfere with my classes and I could earn some additional finances. After about four months of pondering, I applied for a substitute school bus driver position and was subsequently hired to drive the bus. I’ve been involved in school transportation ever since.

Current job duties?
As a state employee, I wear many hats. Currently, I serve as state director of pupil transportation for the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE). My other duties include establishing policies and procedures for school districts, training school bus drivers and providing other technical support to Mississippi school districts as needed. Additionally, I serve as a board member for the Mississippi Operation Lifesaver, as well as president of the local PTO at my children’s school.

Top achievements in life?
Being a part of the MDE team, being the youngest person to serve as transportation supervisor in the state while working in the local school district. Also, I was in charge of the second largest school bus fleet in the state of Mississippi.

I’ve been married for 14 years and have two wonderful children, Ebonee (13) and Leonard Jr. (10).

Favorite book or movie?
I enjoy watching movies that feature actors Wendy Raquel Robinson, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington. My all-time favorite movie is Remember the Titans. It depicts challenges that we all face in life.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a huge football fan. I once had aspirations of being a professional football player. I enjoy watching Jackson State Tiger football and am a diehard fan of the Dallas Cowboys. My kids and I spend a lot of time throwing the football, running plays and even tackling each other.


Carol Todecheene and her husband enjoy traveling and often spend their Sundays taking scenic drives.

Carol Todecheene

Transportation Supervisor, Kayenta (Ariz.) Unified School District

Born: Monument Valley, Utah
Home: Kayenta, Ariz.
Years in industry: 12
Notable previous jobs: I was a coach bus driver. I drove all over the country, meeting people and seeing new places. Not to mention the pay.

How did you get your start in the industry?
I had two jobs: one was driving for a coach company and the other was working in classrooms part time. But I found that I could drive and work with students as a school bus driver.

Current job duties?
I manage and supervise the transportation department for the Kayenta Unified School District (KUSD). My duties include getting reports in, managing the budget and facilitating meetings.

Top achievements in life?
KUSD’s transportation department making “Top Shop” three consecutive years and my being a school board member for a small school. I’ve overcome cancer and have been married for 27 years to a wonderful man.

Outside interests?
Movies, having family over for dinner, reading and playing bingo. If my family is in town, then it’s dinner and a movie. If I come home late, I read a book, if I have a full day off, then it’s off to play bingo or take a Sunday drive with my husband.

Favorite book or movie?
I don’t have a favorite book or movie, but I have three favorite authors; John Grisham, Sydney Sheldon and Mary Higgins Clark. I like mysteries and suspense. It keeps me guessing.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
I would say San Francisco — from Chinatown, to Muir Woods, Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz and many more locations. From there, my husband and I traveled to the Sequoia National Forest. I guess what makes it most interesting is that it’s the first place I traveled.

Strangest job you’ve had?
The strangest job I ever held was night auditor for a hotel chain. The suspense books and movies I’ve read and seen broadened my imagination. Seeing and hearing things in the night scared me. This job only lasted three months.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
When I travel, people are surprised to learn that my father is a Navajo code talker.



Donald Tudor and his wife, Leah, enjoy celebrating Christmas, a special time of year for the two and their family.

Donald N. Tudor

State Director of Pupil Transportation, South Carolina Department of Education

Born: Raleigh, N.C.
Home: Columbia, S.C.
Years in industry: 14
Notable previous jobs: Director of transportation policy for Gov. Richard W. Riley and owner of Donald Tudor Transportation Consulting Associates.

How did you get your start in the industry?
While on the governor’s staff, I directed the state federal public transit program and worked to coordinate these resources with other passenger transportation in the state. As a private transportation consultant, I conducted numerous studies and provided assistance to passenger transportation operations across the country.

Current job duties?
I direct the South Carolina Office of Transportation at the state Department of Education. This office owns, maintains, services and inspects the state’s fleet of 5,700 school buses.

Top achievements in life?
The opportunity to manage and lead the best state school transportation operation in the country. And, after work, enjoying life with my beautiful and very talented wife and three exceptional children.

Outside interests?
Long-time member of my church’s choirs, yard work, golfing and visiting my very active 90-year-old mother in North Carolina.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
Every time I visit one of my 45 school bus maintenance facilities, I’m constantly impressed at the professionalism of my staff and their willingness to keep very old school buses safely operating on the road with limited funding.

Strangest job you’ve had?
I assisted in the management of South Carolina’s Hay Emergency in 1986. The summer of 1986 presented South Carolina and the southeast with a drought that left us without hay for our livestock. As the transportation director for the governor, it was my job to find ways to transport donated hay from every state in the nation to South Carolina.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I took a whitewater rafting trip down Oregon’s Rogue River.


Jean Zimmerman and her husband, Pete, enjoy a loving moment during an Alaskan cruise.

Jean M. Zimmerman

Supervisor of Occupational & Physical Therapy, School District of Palm Beach County

Born: Boston
Home: Tequesta, Fla.
Years in industry: 20
Notable previous jobs: Pediatric physical therapist at Newington (Conn.) Children’s Hospital.

How did you get your start in the industry?
As a school-based physical therapist, I became concerned about how students arrived at school in their wheelchairs. After boarding school buses to investigate, I realized I had a unique expertise to offer. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Current job duties?
I supervise a staff of 40 occupational and physical therapists at the School District of Palm Beach County (Fla.). I also provide training and presentations on the needs of preschool children and special-needs students.

Top achievements in life?
Making a difference in the lives of special-needs students and their families. Spending time in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia teaching physical therapists in these countries about working with special-needs children. I had approximately $10,000-worth of wheelchairs and equipment donated to bring with me.

Outside interests?
I enjoy traveling with my husband, Pete, collecting cat figurines, shopping and decorating for Christmas.

Favorite book or movie?
All Robin Cook novels. I enjoy his works, as they are medical mysteries.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
Poland, which is the native country of both my parents and grandparents. I had the opportunity to meet four of my first cousins and their families on the farm where my dad was raised. I also experienced first hand the heritage, food and hospitality that I grew up with in a Polish family.

Strangest job you’ve had?
While working my way through college to become a physical therapist, I worked two summers on a Christmas-card factory assembly line.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Pete and I won an international ballroom dance competition. Also, I thought about becoming a nun.


Related Topics: Fascinating Personalities, history

Comments ( 0 )
More Stories
BusWest will distribute, service, and install Fogmaker fire suppression systems, seen here on a school bus.

BusWest to Offer Fogmaker Fire Suppression

The school bus dealer, which has facilities in California and Nevada, will serve as a distributor, service provider, and installer of Fogmaker North America’s systems.

Photo by JD Hardin

8 Keys to a Safe School Bus Operation

After a string of fatal crashes shook the industry, the time is ripe to refocus on the fundamentals of transportation management, from hiring the right people to putting the needs of children first.


Video, Telematics System

SmartDrive video gives bus drivers and managers insight and analysis designed to help save fuel, reduce maintenance expenses, and improve driver behavior.

Be the First to Know

Get the latest news and most popular articles from SBF delivered straight to your inbox. Stay on top of the school bus industry and don't miss a thing!