School Bus Contractors

Donald Fowler Named Contractor of the Year

Leslie Davis
Posted on August 1, 2006
Donald Fowler bought his first school bus in 1975 from his father’s International Harvester dealership. More than 30 years later, Fowler owns 28 buses and has managed to grow Fowler Bus Lines Inc., in Richmond, Mo., into a flourishing family business.

“My family is a big part of the business,” says Fowler, who is president of Fowler Bus. His wife, Mary, is office manager, and he credits her with making sure all of the routes run smoothly. His three children — McKenzie, 17; Kyle, 19; and Jason, 31 — also do their part to help out. “My youngest son eventually wants to get more buses and expand,” Fowler says.

Fowler considers himself lucky to have so much support, especially since he runs two other successful companies in addition to his contracting service. Operating out of the same office as Fowler Bus are a packaged ice company and a surplus company.

The bus company began in 1982, but when Fowler began feeling the effects of consolidation and lost a bus contract to a larger company in 1986, he decided he needed to broaden his business interests. “I wasn’t going to have all my eggs in one basket,” he admits.

Though Fowler did not plan for the packaged ice business to get as big as it did (he sells 1.5 million bags annually), he says finding time to manage all three businesses is not a problem. “It all works out. I have a routine,” he says. “When school’s in, we take care of that until 8:30 or 9 a.m., until everything calms down.” After that, Fowler has time to tend to his other businesses until school lets out again. The bus company remains his primary business, serving one school district in Missouri —the Richmond R-16 School District — with six full-time employees and 30 part-time bus drivers (including Fowler, who often fills in as a sub driver}.

While Fowler has his hands dipped into a variety of businesses, it is for his contributions to the school bus industry that he received SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s Contractor of the Year award on July 24 at the National School Transportation Association’s (NSTA) 42nd annual convention in Lake Tahoe, Nev. He is the 39th recipient of the award.

He knows his business
There is no doubt that Fowler is devoted to the school bus industry. He is currently secretary-treasurer of NSTA, where he has been on the board more than 10 years. He is also legislative chair and educational workshop chair for the Missouri School Bus Contractors Association, and is involved with the National Association for Pupil Transportation and Missouri Association for Pupil Transportation.

Fowler says he contributes so much time to these associations because “you get to know your business. The associations know the laws, they know the regulations, and they help you run your business.”

Fowler says he relies on these associations to help him work through some of the tougher challenges he faces as a contractor. His biggest challenge these days is finding drivers and training and testing them. The bus company was also hit with the rising costs of fuel, but per a clause in its contract with the school district, the district picked up some of the costs.

New technology is also proving to be a bit of a challenge for Fowler, who is awed by all of the technology that now goes into buses. “It’s unbelievable the technology we have now. Some very smart people are needed in the shop to make things run,” he says. “It’s very challenging, and I like challenges.”

When Fowler is able to squeeze some free time into his otherwise busy schedule, he enjoys fishing on the pond and lake on his property. He also spends time on his 80-acre farm, where he’s raised Angus cattle for about 10 years.

Leslie Davis is a freelance writer in Davis, Calif.

Comments ( 0 )
More Stories
School Bus Fleet ConneX (SBFX) will convene in Scottsdale, Ariz., from April 22 to 24, 2020. Shown here is a roundtable discussion at the inaugural edition of SBFX, which was held in Miami, Fla., in April 2019.
News

School Bus Fleet ConneX to Return in 2020

Next year’s event will bring school bus operators and suppliers to Scottsdale, Ariz., for roundtable discussions, one-on-one meetings, and other networking activities.

Dennis Maple, First Student’s president, is leaving the company for a position outside of the organization. Paul Osland, First Student’s chief operating officer, will serve as interim president.
News

Top Leadership Change at First Student

Dennis Maple, the school bus company's president, will leave the company in August. Paul Osland, First Student’s chief operating officer, will serve as interim president.

John Polli, president and CEO of Reliance Student Transportation, says the company values efficient employee training and driver recruitment.
Article

School Bus Contractor Driven to Boost Safety, Training

From purchasing and operating one school bus company to later establishing another from the ground up, Reliance Student Transportation President and CEO John Polli has proven his dedication and commitment to the school bus industry.

Family-run Villani Bus Co. has grown by leaps and bounds over the last century, now transporting over 7,500 students every day. Shown here is Courtney Villani, president, with her son, Diodato.
News

New Jersey Bus Company Marks 100 Years

Run by three generations over the course of the last century, Villani Bus Co. now serves dozens of school districts and transports over 7,500 students every day.

Be the First to Know

Get the latest news and most popular articles from SBF delivered straight to your inbox. Stay on top of the school bus industry and don't miss a thing!