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Devoted Mercer Island bus driver will be missed
After 30 years and thousands of miles of negotiating a school bus weighing more than 10 tons through all kinds of weather and terrain, Bunnie Lehan turned in the keys to her bus last Friday.
Lehan started driving a school bus for the Mercer Island School District as a substitute driver in 1982. She used to work eight-hour days. Now she has been working about four and a half, she said.
“I think they found it was cheaper for Metro to serve high school kids,” she said.
But when she was driving the long hours, she had the difficult East Mercer Way route from the SJCC to about 70th Street. She drove kids from kindergarten to seniors in high school on that route for 25 years.
“You don’t get to do East Mercer drive until you’ve proven yourself on other routes,” said the district’s transportation director Todd Kelsay.
Kelsay said she knew every twist and turn on that route by heart. He said it’s astonishing how many miles she has driven on East Mercer.
“We’ll miss her a lot,” Kelsay said. “She’s been a model for a lot of drivers.”
Lehan said it’s a road you don’t want to take for granted. She’s encountered semi’s coming around a sharp corner that have exited onto the Island and are basically lost. She called it the challenge of the road.
She never had any accidents. She said she tried to learn every child’s name and where they got on and off the bus.
“I had a few scares,” she said. “I also considered myself a mother hen with big long wings, so you keep a vigilance, especially with the elementary kids.”
She said she followed her instincts if she felt something wasn’t right. In fact, if a child was going to be getting off at a different stop (except for the high school kids), they needed a note.
“That’s been standard procedure for as long as I can remember,” she said.
Lehan said the most enjoyable part of her job has been the kids.
When she gave up the East Mercer route to drive special needs kids, which is what she has been doing the past couple of years, she was driving kindergartners of students she drove in the ’80s and ’90s. Kelsay said she drove his kids from kindergarten until high school.
Lehan said elementary school kids stretched her patience a bit, saying it was a constant conversation to keep them safe, sitting down, staying out of the aisles and keeping their hands inside.
“I liked the diversity of middle schoolers, even though they’re going through adolescence and all the hormonal issues,” Lehan said.
But she had fun watching all of them grow.
Mike Flaherty is the district’s bus dispatcher now, but he was also a driver. He started with the district in 1992 and knows Lehan well.
“Her retirement is well deserved and she will be missed,” Flaherty said. “She was devoted to the kids she drove. She was an example for the other drivers. She prided herself in how well she performed her job.”
Lehan said the job has taken a toll on her body, and that is why she’s retiring. She’s had four shoulder surgeries and has back issues. Before becoming a bus driver, she was a housewife, mom and had a few part-time jobs. She is married with two grown daughters in their 40s, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“I’ll miss the camaraderie,” Lehan said. “I love getting up and coming to work. I like the interaction with the kids and parents. This balances my personal life.”
But she is looking forward to retirement, with new adventure, travel, time for her crafts and spending more time with her great-grandchildren. She said it will be nice to turn her alarm off and just know she doesn’t have to leap out of bed. She’s also interested in doing volunteer work.
A retirement party for Bunnie Lehan will be held on March 5 at 3:30 p.m. at the Mercer Island VFW Post, across the street from the Roanoke Inn. A performance of the musically talented bus drivers will take place. Island residents and students are welcome to attend.