Dale Hanson, a bus driver for South Hamilton Community School District in Jewell, Iowa, knows how it feels to hit the big 6-0. He did it last year. This year he posted the big 6-1 — that's 61 years behind the wheel of a school bus.
Hanson, 80, began driving a bus at age 17 in 1943. He originally drove buses for the town of Stanhope, Iowa. In the 1960s, four towns — Stanhope, Jewell, Ellsworth and Randall — consolidated their schools and became the South Hamilton Community School District. "I've been with them ever since," Hanson says.
Driving school buses runs in Hanson's family. His parents pulled children to school with a team of horses and a wagon, he explains, and his wife, son, brother, two brothers-in-law and a nephew have also worked as school bus drivers.
Hanson started driving when he was a junior in high school. Because of World War II, there was a shortage of drivers, so schools were allowing high school students to become drivers.
After he graduated from high school in 1945, Hanson was drafted into the Army and spent 19 months in service. He went back to bus driving when he got out in April of 1947, he says, and continued for another 57 years. Even when Hanson ran his own farming operation from 1960 to 1995, he continued to work as a driver to supplement his income.
Over the years, Hanson says he has driven three generations of South Hamilton's children. Besides improvements in bus quality, another significant change he observed is in the kids' attitudes, particularly after the district was consolidated. "For a little bit, there was a little friction between the town kids and country kids," says Hanson. But eventually they realized they had to get along, he says.
The children are Hanson's favorite part of the job. He says he made it a point to greet them as they got on the bus in the morning and when they got off in the afternoon. "They would thank me for the rides," he says. "And then you'd have a lot of these little kindergarten and first grade children. They would stop and give me a hug and say, 'I love you, Dale.'"
When asked to describe Hanson's record at the district, Transportation Director Harold Anderson says he was an excellent driver and is very dependable, seldom missing a day during the school year. "Basically, he had no accidents," Anderson says. "He may have hit a mailbox one time in a turnaround, but that's all."
In his retirement, Hanson plans to keep driving — but behind the wheel of a riding mower rather than a bus. He owns and maintains an acre of land in the country and says that mowing there and for a neighbor will keep him busy through the summer.
Hanson's last day was May 30. He was scheduled to honored at an event held by the school district to celebrate all of the year's retirees.