Nothing it seems — not attempted retirement, not a sick child, not even a tornado — can prevent Phyllis Stoppel of Moundridge from giving USD 423 students a ride to and from school.
Or from having a great start to their day.
"I always try and remember that I am probably the first person they see," Stoppel said. "I greet them with a smile and warmth and give them a good start to the day."
"She is the quintessential nice lady," said George Leary, superintendent of the Moundridge School District. "... (What makes her special) is her love for kids. When we talk about the first person that kids see, school-related, it is the bus driver. You want those kids to start their day off with a great approach. A great day starts with the bus driver. Phyllis Stoppel is that bus driver who starts the kids off with a great mood."
Stoppel will turn 79 in October, but she has no intention of stopping her daily routine of driving the bus. She says her doctor has green-lighted her to keep driving "as long as I feel good."
"They will bring me out in a wheelchair for this," she joked.
Stoppel started her career as a bus driver on Sept. 1, 1971. She was looking for a part-time job to help support her family with five children attending school.
"I decided, after they were all through school, that I enjoyed it," she said.
That was 48 years ago — an amount of experience that is valued not only by her, but her peers and supervisors.
When someone needs to know something about the bus system, or bus, she is the person who gets the call.
"She is always here. She is our lead driver. She comes out and makes sure all the buses are in good shape," Leary said. "If I have bus-related questions — as in, 'We need to replace a bus; which bus is it?' — she knows right away. She knows all the buses and how they function. She is not a mechanic, but she knows the feel of the bus. If she comes in and says, 'George, there is something wrong with this bus and we need to have it looked at,' I don't question that. I just do it. .... It is that intuition and those years of driving."
She has bused three generations of students to school — and three generations of some families have ridden her bus.
"It is fun to see families grow and continue on and still be here in the Moundridge school district," Stoppel said.
It was just a couple years after her career started that she drove through the worst storm of her career — a tornado that ripped through the Goessel and Moundridge area.
That was in 1974.
"It went through the farmstead we were renting," she said. "It destroyed our farmhouse. ... We all managed."
At one point she retired, but even that did not stop her from driving.
"I took two years off, and I retired actually," Stoppel said. "I substituted almost every week that year. I was still employed by the school. ... Everybody had the flu those two years. All the time, somebody had the flu."
"She is my go-to person when it comes to buses," Leary said.