Q&A With Prudy Baker
Prudy Baker celebrates 40 years as a school bus driver for White Mountains Regional School District
For a few dozen students in a neighborhood just north of the village of Lancaster, change is not inevitable. They, like many of their parents and a few of their grandparents before them, have become accustomed to seeing Prudy Baker at the crack of dawn behind the wheel of a big yellow school bus. This year Baker celebrates 40 years as a school bus driver for White Mountains Regional School District.
Fate seemed to put and now keeps her in the business. She started by driving a van on a temporary basis and then was convinced to take on a permanent route with a big bus. That was back in 1973 when most buses had standard-shifts, there was very little paperwork and children played with marbles.
Over the years, Baker has seen a lot of change, but fundamentally, she says, children are the same. The last few years have been challenging; she had knee replacement and lost her husband of 49 years but seeing the faces of the children helped raise her spirits. But last spring — while facing the mandatory state test that all 70-year-old school bus drivers must take to retain their licenses — Baker felt that she just wasn’t up for it and decided to retire or, as she says, “turn in the keys.” Days later, she was notified that the state age requirement had been lifted and her employer tore up her resignation. “I was so happy,” she says.
Did you ever think you’d be doing this so long?
Not at all. The first five years that I drove, every April vacation I’d say to my husband, “This is it. This is my last year. I can’t take it anymore.” But somehow I forgot to say it to the right person in June. I always look forward to September. I’m always very anxious to go back.
I bet you’ve seen a lot of change?
When I started back in the winter of 1974, children got on the bus with marbles and little girls had paper dolls. Over time I’d hear about Tinker Toys and the Erector Sets. That’s all changed. Today, it’s iPods and the rest. I’m not saying that’s bad, that’s just today’s world. When I first got started, I don’t think there was any paperwork. Buses have changed incredibly. Now the buses are all automatic shift. I remember the standard-shift buses. I liked those. I was the last bus driver to have one of those. I felt like I had better control.
Have the kids changed?
In some ways they have. It’s a different world for kids growing up today than it was in the 1970s. There is no way I can say they are worse today. What I see is more peer pressure. Kids are still good, respectful. It’s another reason I enjoy my job so much, but they have changed.
Those buses are big and it must be hard to get around in traffic, not to mention the kids. I remember telling my manager, “Never send me south of Exit 20.” But she sent me to Manchester. I didn’t have a comfortable feeling the farther I got into Concord. There was more and more traffic. I thought to myself, “I’m here with this bus and these students and I’ve got to get them there and get turned around and get back north.” And I did it. When I saw that sign — I said, “I love 93 North.” When I got back to Lancaster, my manager asked how I made out and I told her, fine. Then, she said, “Good, because you’re going back to pick them up.” With no exaggeration, I’ve seen more of the state of New Hampshire in that school bus than in my own car.
Why do you keep doing it?
What do have I got to do? I’m not going to sit at home. There is nothing else to do. I’m not going to get another job. I’m always ready for a break in June. It’s so nice to see these kids start out in kindergarten and then graduate, and now I’m into some third generation kids. I love watching them grow up.