20 Fascinating Personalities (Part 2)

SBF staff editors
Posted on November 1, 2005
Gerri Hall enjoys traveling with her husband, David Nickels. Here, they are picnicking high on the cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

Gerri Hall enjoys traveling with her husband, David Nickels. Here, they are picnicking high on the cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

Gerri Hall

President/CEO, Operation Lifesaver Inc.

Born: Aberdeen, S.D.
Home: Kensington, Md.
Years in industry: Ten years, through Operation Lifesaver’s educational efforts to teach school bus drivers how to make safe decisions around tracks and trains.

Notable previous jobs: Ten years with the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, working on surface transportation safety issues for Sen. John Danforth.

How did you get your start in the industry?
Working on surface transportation safety issues in the U.S. Senate.

Current job duties?
I work with our Program Development Council and staff to provide educational materials and training programs that help our 50 state coordinators, 200 trainers and 4,000 volunteer safety speakers reach key groups — like pupil transportation — with important rail safety information.

Top achievements in life?
Professionally, introducing safety advocates in other countries to the Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) program so they can help their citizens be safe around tracks and trains. OLI has programs in Canada, Mexico, Argentina, England and Estonia. It is wonderful to have an opportunity to travel with my husband around the world, meeting and working with dedicated, interesting people. Personally, a highlight was traveling in Europe with a 16-voice a cappella group. How amazing to sing sacred music in the cathedrals for which it was written!

Outside interests?
Singing, gardening, traveling.

Favorite book or movie?
I get a big kick out of clever animated movies that delight both kids and adults. Finding Nemo is a favorite!

Most interesting place you’ve been?
Australia is amazing! Every part of the country is unique and full of amazing people, creatures, sights and experiences.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
My grandfather’s cousin was Wild Bill Hickock, who was shot in the back playing poker in Deadwood, S.D.! (Maybe that’s why safety is so important in my family!)

In April, George Horne boiled 225 pounds of crawfish "cajun style" at a gathering of family and friends.

George Horne

President, Horne Enterprises, Metairie, La.

Born: Paris, Ark.
Home: Metairie, La.
Years in industry: 30
Notable previous jobs: English teacher, supervisor, assistant superintendent, superintendent of schools, southeast regional manager - Pupil Transportation Safety Institute.

How did you get your start in the industry?
After being appointed assistant superintendent of a division, the transportation director was reassigned, and I had to assume his duties for day-to-day operation.

Current job duties?
I am a transportation consultant, specializing in training, writing, presenting, expert witnessing and consulting (routing, budget reviews, route analyses, etc.). I have written three National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) certification courses and enjoy teaching NAPT courses as well.

Top achievements in life?
I reached the top of the professional ladder in education when I became superintendent of schools; I initiated the first special-needs transportation handbook in a Louisiana school district (1987) and later for the Department of Education; I chaired the local Red Cross service center; I currently chair the church Parish Pastoral Advisory Council; I received the NAPT Distinguished Service Award in 2004.

Outside interests?
Gardening, woodworking, “tinkering,” church-related endeavors, cooking crawfish “cajun style.”

Favorite book or movie?
My favorite book is the Bible, because it is the true roadmap for life, in my opinion. My favorite movie is Patton, because it emphasizes the results that can be achieved against overwhelming odds if one has the spirit and tenacity to forge ahead.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
That’s a hard question, but Denver’s Museum of Natural History ranks very high. Professionally, touring Thomas Built, Blue Bird, Carpenter and Ward/Amtran/IC bus manufacturing plants has been very interesting.

Strangest job you’ve had?
Taking inventory in a hardware store, which was a part-time job during high school and college. I literally had to count nuts, bolts, washers, pipe fittings, etc. At least they allowed me to weigh the nails instead of count them!

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
During my college days, I moonlighted as a drummer, even appearing in bands on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Also, some people may know this, but I like to write poetry.

Brent Huffman counts his marriage to Hope, who has been a bus driver for 25 years, among his top achievements.

Brent Huffman

Pupil Transportation Specialist, Utah State Office of Education

Born: Salt Lake City
Home: Salt Lake City
Years in industry: 31
Notable previous jobs: Radio announcer, insurance salesman, bus driver, driver trainer, driver foreman, route coordinator.

How did you get your start in the industry?
I was selling insurance, and my income fluctuated a lot. So I took a part-time job as a substitute driver until I could find something better. I decided that pupil transportation was what I was looking for.

Current job duties?
I am the pupil transportation specialist at the Utah State Office of Education (state director). My duties include the oversight of the legislative appropriation for pupil transportation, coordinating the bus driver training program for Utah, monitoring specifications for school buses and assisting school districts with all pupil transportation issues. Additionally, I was a member of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services’ (NASDPTS) board of directors for four years, and I was president-elect of NASDPTS for two years.

Top achievements in life?
I have been married to the same woman for 28 years. I have five children (four boys and one girl), seven grandchildren and one grandchild on the way. I have a bachelor’s degree in management, and I am a certified public manager.

Outside interests?
I love sports, especially football. I enjoy reading about human achievement. I am a high priest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Also, I enjoy watching professional rodeo.

Favorite book or movie?
My favorite book is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People because of the great information it provides to be an effective manager. My favorite movie is Paint Your Wagon. It makes me laugh all the way through it.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
The most interesting place I’ve been is Nashville, Tenn. I love country music — and I do a little entertaining myself — so being in Nashville was like going to heaven.

Strangest job you’ve had?
I worked in a candy factory and operated a machine that made after-dinner mints.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I think that people would be surprised to learn that I was once a competitive rodeo cowboy. I competed in steer wrestling and team roping.

Sailing is one of Pete Japikse's passions. He has also been involved in youth training programs in sailing and inline hockey.

Pete Japikse

Director, Pupil Transportation Office, Ohio Department of Education

Born: Cincinnati
Home: Lewis Center, Ohio
Years in industry: 26
Notable previous jobs: Transportation director at various school districts, deputy fire chief.

How did you get your start in the industry?
By accident. I learned to drive a bus while working as a backcountry guide in the Rocky Mountains. After relocating back to Ohio to resume graduate school, I needed a part-time job. Answering an ad for a school bus driver, I took the job, got stuck and haven’t looked back.

Current job duties?
As director of pupil transportation for the state of Ohio, I provide technical support, oversight of policy and rulemaking, funding support, management consulting and school bus driver education and training.

Top achievements in life?
Two sons who I am extremely proud of. Being in a position where I can have a positive impact on the many professionals who depend upon us to support them. Sharing in the leadership of successful youth training programs in both sailing and inline hockey.

Outside interests?
Sailing, snow skiing, photography.

Favorite book or movie?
Two of my favorite books are Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson and Dilbert: Another Day in Cubicle Paradise by Scott Adams. While neither are novels, nor have the readability of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels (another favorite), both are valuable in maintaining perspective.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
The Netherlands. I recently had the opportunity to travel there with my wife and sons along with my parents (for whom Holland is home). It was a remarkable opportunity to meet relatives (something that many people take for granted), study the history of our family and learn more about the fascinating ingenuity and technical accomplishments of the Dutch as they continually labor to reclaim and keep their below-sea-level land from the surrounding ocean.

Strangest job you’ve ever had?
Backcountry guide, living and working on the continental divide in the Colorado Rockies.

Charley Kennington enjoys spending time with his three grandchildren, seen here at a zoo in east Texas this summer.

Charley Kennington

School Bus Transportation Program Administrator, Texas Department of Public Safety

Born: Odessa, Texas
Home: Lorena, Texas
Years in industry: 19
Notable previous jobs: Retail store manager (11 years with TG&Y, 4 years with Wal-Mart).

How did you get your start in the industry?
After I resigned from the Gonzales (Texas) Wal-Mart, the Gonzales superintendent of schools contacted me about applying as transportation director for the company that the school district was going to contract with. I started in that position for Durham in May 1986. I moved to Waco as transportation director in June 1988 and left Durham in July 1999 for my current job.

Current job duties?
As the Texas state director of school bus transportation, my two major functions are state school bus specifications and driver certification, in which more than 19,000 drivers are certified or recertified annually. I am an instructor of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Child Passenger Safety in School Bus” course, a presenter and board member for the Texas Operation Lifesaver, president of the Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference, board member for the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute, and advisory board member for the Transporting Students with Disabilities and Preschoolers conference.

Top achievements in life?
I have four acres of land that I keep mowed, and I nurture the wildflowers so they come back each year. To do this with a riding mower was a lot of work, so I bought a 1947 Farmall B tractor. The engine needed to be overhauled so it would do what I needed. Those who really know me know that I am not a mechanic. But I completely overhauled the engine in about six months all by myself. Of course, I made a number of calls to my brother (he is a mechanic) so he could talk me through problems. It was a successful project, and I have used my tractor for three years since completing the overhaul.

Outside interests?
I love spending time with my wife and my three grandchildren. I also love woodworking, genealogy, singing and playing guitar. This summer, we took the grandkids with us on a vacation to east Texas. One stop was the zoo in Tyler, Texas.

Most interesting place you’ve been?
I love seeing places where my ancestors have lived and built a life. But to pick a specific place, it would have to be Niagara Falls. It is awesome to see that much water in one place and still flowing after all these years. Remember that I was raised in the panhandle of Texas, so this much moving water should fascinate me.

Strangest job you’ve had?
My dad was in the oil field business, and I worked as a relief pumper for him starting at age 16 so he could have the weekends off or take vacations. I did this while working at TG&Y as a stock boy.

Click here for Part 3 of "Fascinating Personalities"

Related Topics: Fascinating Personalities, history

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