Natalie's Everyday Heroes: Bus driver makes getting to school safe and fun
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The nationwide bus driver shortage as the start of this new school year has been in the news a lot. So this week, we're introducing a man who spends his days behind the wheel. Eli Darling has been a bus driver for Dousman Transport for five years. The kids and his family are his main motivation.
Darling's afternoon rush starts just before two o'clock in the afternoon. He's got a tight schedule to keep.
On his school bus, there's a lullaby playing in the background. That's for his co-pilot, who's sleeping on the job.
"That is Jameson. He is almost 10 months," Darling said of his youngest son, who rides along with him most days.
Five of Darling's eight children ride his route, which is a welcome perk of the job.
"I get to spend a lot of time with my kids during the day, too," he said.
The first stop of the afternoon is Kettle Moraine Middle School, where his son, Carson, gets on the bus.
"Come on, bud. Go ahead and get in your seat," he said, taking Carson's band instrument.
But it's not just his own kids that motivate Darling to be so engaged.
"There's kids who have different difficulties in life. I have two autistic kids of my own," he said.
He's quick with a greeting when the kids get on the bus.
"I got Starburst. You want Starburst," he asked.
Darling makes sure the kids know exactly where to be at the start of this new school year.
"They moved me over here now. So, this will be my new spot every day," he explains as the kids start looking for his bus.
After the middle school, he picks up the kids at Magee Elementary School.
"So, for the grade school, I ask each kid if they have a couple favorite songs that are appropriate," he said. "I'll play them for them, I make a playlist for the grade school and same with the middle school."
Darling also makes sure to reach out to the parents of all of his students.
"I give them my personal phone number, if they ever need to talk to me after hours or anything. If there's a problem I didn't know about, I want to hear about it right away," he said.
It's part of being connected in a small community.
"Everybody here knows everybody. Everybody here helps everybody else," Darling said.
Darling has been driving for Dousman Transport for about five years.
"Eli is one of the first folks here," said company president, Larry Kirkley.
Kirkley said Darling's positive attitude stands out.
"It takes a special person. It takes the right person to hop in a gigantic school bus, with 60 kids behind you," Kirkley said. "It takes the right kind of person with a special kind of patience and tolerance."
In some ways, his work behind the wheel is a continuation of his service to the community. Darling is a retired Marine.
"Six years. I was in from 87-93. I was in Desert Storm. Combat, I was a wireman in the Marine Corp, which is communications, pretty much," he explained.
He's also co-owner of a bakery in Genesee Depot called All the Crumbs Cookies, which he started with his wife.
"Our business keeps growing, we ship across the country," he said with obvious pride. "The specialty about our shop -- the customer is pretty much allowed to design their own cookie."
It's an idea that began-- you guessed it-- with the kids.
"It started out at home. We were bringing in treats for the kids at school, for the teachers, teacher appreciation week," he said.
Marine, baker, bus driver-- who's already looking to the future.
"That's what I want to be able to do one day. I want to be able to see the kids that I had pass their kids on and be their bus driver," Darling said.
Dousman Transport is looking to hire more drivers. For more information, just visit their website.
If you'd like to nominate an Everyday Hero, send Natalie a message at NShepherd@cbs58.com.