Owen Freese and Verlan Vos encountered suspicion, fear and anger when they started scrutinizing school bus fleets 13 years ago.
But in mid-July, they received Iowa’s most prestigious pupil transportation honor: the Tom Horn Memorial Award.
The Iowa Department of Education hired Freese and Vos as school bus inspectors in 1999. Both previously served as transportation directors for Iowa school districts, and both had been mechanics before entering the school bus industry — Freese in 1986 and Vos in 1989.
State pupil transportation director Max Christensen said that when Freese and Vos began showing up at school districts to inspect their buses, wearing kneepads and wielding large, metal flashlights, they didn’t get the warmest receptions.
“Most local directors looked at these two new guys with much suspicion, angst [and] sometimes fear,” Christensen said. “And after having one of those metal flashlights pushed through the side of a rusted-out bus body panel, many looked at these two new guys with anger.”
But Freese and Vos persevered, despite reportedly having a few tools hurled their way. Christensen said that they have earned the respect of nearly every district in the state because their top priority is the safety of the children riding the buses. The duo, he said, has become “the best delegates of good will” in their agency.
“Because of their diligence, determination, dedication and sometimes just plain, old stubbornness, the state of Iowa has a much improved and much safer school bus fleet than when they first started inspecting buses 13 years ago,” Christensen said.
Freese and Vos were given the Tom Horn Memorial Award at the Iowa School Transportation Conference, which was held in Des Moines from July 16 to 19. The award, which is named for the late founder of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association, recognizes those who have shown exemplary dedication and purpose in their work.
Dedication is a must for the school bus inspectors: Freese and Vos examine more than 7,500 vehicles twice annually, for a total of more than 15,000 inspections per year.