News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Beloved bus driver hangs up her keys

When Teri Ast began driving a school bus in 1994 for the Sisters School District, she couldn’t have fathomed the thousands of miles she would end up accruing behind the wheel. Her daily bus route alone likely adds up to a half a million miles, not to mention the innumerable trips she took with sports teams, field trips, and other assignments over 26 years.

She had been working at Tektronix as a welder when Fred got the opportunity to become a surveyor in Sisters, which he is still doing today. Her kids, Jeremy and Jennifer, were aged three and two at the time.

Ast worked in a variety of capacities in Sisters, including in the meat department at Sentry Market, which later became Ray’s, where she stayed 14 years.

It was her friend and colleague from Sentry Market, Angi Gardinier, who first put the idea of becoming a bus driver into Ast’s mind.

“The selling point was having summers off,” said Ast.

Ast remembers from her early days that she realized she would have to handle a lot of different situations with kids.

“I remember, early on, pulling up to a bus stop and two brothers were fighting tooth and nail and I thought to myself, ‘What am I getting into?’”

She also remembers being caught off guard when some high school students stepped onto the bus in the morning cradling babies wrapped up in blankets. “I didn’t know what to do because I didn’t think babies could ride on the bus,” she said. “It turned out the kids were in a child development class and the ‘babies’ were life-size models,” she said.

Ast reflected on the many trips she drove for, including outdoor school, the fourth-grade “Oregon Trail” field trip, every sport — including rooter buses, IEE and ECOS ventures, band trips to Reno, Hoodoo ski excursions, and trips to Fred Hutch Cancer Institute in Seattle. Once she and her fellow bus driver and dear friend Kathy Levine flew to Georgia where Blue Bird buses are manufactured and each of them drove a brand new bus all the way back to Sisters.

“We had a great time doing that,” she said.

“The training is pretty extensive for becoming a bus driver and I remember being taught that bus drivers are the first people many kids see to start their school day and that it makes a big difference to their day when the bus driver knows them, greets them, and interacts with them,” Ast said.

Ast made a point of going the extra mile at times with kids.

“We had homework club on the bus at times,” she said. “I had pencils and paper and would get older kids to help younger kids. I explained to the kids that if they could get some of it done before they even got home they would have more time for some fun.”

When she drove on sports outings and field trips Ast would engage with what was happening.

“The kids liked it that I would be interested in what they were doing and I became more than just the bus driver,” she said.

The most noticeable change she has seen in students over the past years is the use of cell phones and other technology.

“I am concerned that kids don’t ever really disconnect from the screens — they are occupied every second,” she said. “I think that life for kids and adults was much simpler when I first began driving. Everyone seems to be in a rush nowadays.”

Despite the changes, Ast insists she fully enjoyed her job all the way through her career.

“Being in a small town you really do get the chance to know a lot of people,” she said. “I feel very lucky to have made friends with so many parents, students, and school staff members. Many of them I consider as close as family.”

Ryan Stock, the transportation supervisor for the past few years said, “Teri’s career operating a school bus for the last 26 years has been a wonderful experience for Sisters families and schools. She cares for the students and looks out for their safety everyday.”

It goes beyond just being a good driver.

“She shows children compassion and kindness with the patience found in a mother’s love,” Stock said. “This has given us and our parents peace of mind. Teri is truly a priceless gift for our community. So many of us have shared heartfelt experiences of laughter, hope, and inspiration with her — she has enriched our lives.”

He concluded, “Teri’s next trip is taking the only fork in the road she has not traveled yet, retirement. We wish her only the best on her next journey.”

Ast is grateful for the many years she got to serve the school district. “The district has been very good to me,” she said. “I love the people I have gotten to know here.”

“Anyone who knows Teri understands she is a worker and someone ready to help,” said one staff member.

She is very active.

“I never sit around long,” she said.

Life-skills teacher and coach Josh Nordell got emotional when asked to comment on Ast’s retirement.

“She has been a real constant and supportive companion to me and my programs,” he said. “Her willingness and ability to jump in and help with anything is amazing. It’s hard for me to imagine not spending afternoons with her. I am going to miss her more than I can really express.”

Ast clearly intends to keep on helping. She plans to volunteer, perhaps with Habitat for Humanity, the Kiwanis Food Bank, and the community garden. She also intends to travel, whether by plane, car, or bicycle.

“And, I won’t have to get up at five in the morning if I don’t want to,” she said with a smile.

 

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