WHITE SALMON, Wash. — Sharon Schalk, who was a driving force in instructing Washington's school bus driver trainers and who pushed for funding for a much-needed new transportation facility, has died at age 69.
Schalk began her pupil transportation career in 1976 as a bus driver for White Salmon Valley School District, which lies along the Columbia River in southern Washington.
Two years later, Schalk became a driver trainer for the district. After another two years, in 1980, she was appointed transportation supervisor. She was later promoted to the title director of transportation.
One of Schalk's key contributions to pupil transportation was her role in training driver trainers. In 1983, she became lead instructor for Washington state's driver trainer program — in addition to her role at White Salmon Valley School District.
Susan Tibke, who took over as transportation director at White Salmon after Schalk retired in 2010, said that Washington's "train the trainer" program has received national recognition and has been adapted for use in many other states.
Skip Enes, a former regional coordinator for Washington's pupil transportation system and now a consultant, noted that Schalk was one of a select few trainers across the state who provided annual in-service training for other trainers. She was also the lead instructor in training new school bus driver trainer candidates each year.
"Both endeavors required a great deal of time commitment," Enes said, "but time was a relative commodity for Sharon. If you needed some, she always found a way to give you some of hers."
Schalk also contributed much of her time to the Washington Association for Pupil Transportation (WAPT), including serving as president from 1998 to '99 and working on the association's driver roadeo.
In 2009, Schalk became the first inductee in the WAPT Hall of Fame for her many years of service and accomplishments. That same year, the association named an award in her honor: the Sharon Elizabeth Schalk Leadership Award. Schalk was the first recipient.
For many years, White Salmon's transportation center was a Quonset hut that housed one maintenance bay and an office. When it rained, the roof would leak onto the office ceiling, so rain gutters were installed inside the building. The parking area for the buses was a gravel lot.
In 1997, Schalk began lobbying the state for funding for a new transportation facility. As a key factor in securing funds, Schalk formed a transportation cooperative with three neighboring school districts for maintenance, training and other operational services.
Washington approved the funding for the new White Salmon facility. Enes said that it had been more than 20 years since the state had approved or even considered funding such a project.
In 2002, Schalk and her staff moved into the new facility, which includes such features as covered bus parking, a wash bay, an in-ground lift and ample room for storage. White Salmon runs its fleet of about 20 buses out of the facility and services buses from the other districts in the transportation cooperative.
End of an era
After about 34 years in pupil transportation, Schalk retired in January 2010. A few months later, the White Salmon district's board of directors dedicated the transportation facility in Schalk's honor, naming it the Sharon E. Schalk Transportation Center.
Schalk was diagnosed with cancer in December. Her husband of 50 years, Eldon, cared for her until she passed away on April 25. Services were held for her on Saturday in White Salmon.
Tibke, who began working with Schalk at the White Salmon district in 2002 and was named assistant supervisor the year before Schalk retired, described her former boss as "a very happy person, very engaging and outgoing. She was tough — she wanted things just so. But she never asked anything of us that she wasn't willing to do herself."