Don L. Collins, founder of Collins Industries Inc., now Collins Bus Corp., and known as the "father of the Type A small school bus," passed away at his home in Florida on July 29 at the age of 83. He will be laid to rest on Aug. 8 in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Collins was born to Rev. B.B. and Viola Adams Collins in Seminole, Oklahoma, on January 24, 1931. At the age of 16, he attended Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas. He began as a pastor, and continued ministering in other areas throughout his life.
Eventually, Collins left the ministry and began selling school buses for Wayne Bus Co. in Indiana, where he excelled at sales and marketing, business partner and friend Lew Ediger told The Hutchinson News.
The manufacturer, originally named E-CON-O Conversion, was founded in 1967 in Kansas City, Missouri. It was there that Collins, according to The Hutchinson News, identified the need for a smaller, 16- to 24-passenger school bus. Ever since, a history of innovation has made the company he founded a leader in the pupil transportation industry, from developing the first small Type A school bus in 1967, to developing flat-floor buses, to producing its own seats and seat belts.
In 1971, he moved the company to Hutchinson, Kansas, and formed Collins Industries Inc., now a subsidiary of Allied Specialty Vehicles, soon also becoming a pioneer in the manufacture of ambulances, fire trucks, hearses, limousines, and wheelchair lifts. Collins also manufactured transit buses, leisure vans, and terminal trucks that helped transform the shipping industry from bulk to containerization.
Additionally, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan honored Collins in Rose Garden ceremonies at the White House for his contribution to small business.
Collins served on various boards of directors, including the board of Good Life Broadcasting, a Christian television network in Orlando, Florida. He was also a guest lecturer for the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. In 2000, he published a book, “Common Sense Wisdom,” a collection of thoughts and quotes about his life.
Collins was an antique car enthusiast, and he restored numerous antique cars — his latest, a 1928 Model A Roadster.
Collins is survived by his wife of 35 years, Sharon; five children, Don (Carol), Ron (Joyce), Bonnie (David) Fricke, Paul, and Darraugh; three stepchildren, Scott Gearhart, Jeanne Buller, and Brett Collins; 10 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren; sisters Nadine Dodd and Dorothy (Carl) Martindale; and his cousin, Bill (Iris) Holland.
Memories of Collins and thoughts for his family can be shared at www.hayhurstfh.com.