Gardner driven to go the extra mile |

Gardner driven to go the extra mile

Jim Noelker/Post Independent Photo

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – For local kids, the end of the school year is reason to celebrate.

But for Steve Gardner, 49, it means he’ll have to take a few months off from a job he loves – driving school buses for Roaring Fork School District Re-1.

Gardner loves his job – and his employers love him.

“We wish we had 10 Steves,” said Larry Estrada, Re-1’s director of transportation. “He does so much for the district.”

Because of Gardner’s outstanding service to area schools, Estrada and Re-1 transportation supervisor Carol Burns wanted to honor Gardner at an Re-1 school board meeting in May. But since Gardner isn’t one to seek out recognition, they knew it would be difficult to get Gardner to attend the meeting. So they admittedly lied to him.

“We told Steve the school board needed input from a current driver regarding over-the-road bus trips and had requested that he be at the meeting,” Estrada said.

Gardner prepared a detailed report for the board, Estrada said, only to be shocked when members of the transportation department, teachers, parents and even Gardner’s mother, Natalie Gardner, were on hand to present Gardner with a specialized Re-1 transportation jacket and certificate.

“It was the first time we’ve seen Steve speechless!” said Burns. “It was time for Steve to be recognized.”

415 routes

Gardner is a full-time substitute bus driver, which means he fills in whenever a driver is sick or can’t make a shift.

No day is ever the same.

Sometimes, Gardner will drive the route up in Marble, other times in Basalt, still other times in Glenwood. In all, Re-1’s transportation department operates 415 bus routes, and Gardner knows them all.

But Gardner doesn’t stop there. He’s one of the first to sign up to drive buses for sports teams.

“And he doesn’t just drive the bus to the games,” Estrada said. “He always makes a point of watching the games and taking a real interest in the kids.”

Estrada said Gardner doesn’t take just the cream of the crop trips.

“He signs up for trips that aren’t covered, and that aren’t getting filled by other drivers,” Estrada said.

And, said Estrada, Gardner frequently volunteers his time to drive buses on activity trips, like camping trips to Moab, that can last up to eight days.

“He not only drives, he makes coffee!” exclaimed Burns, with a laugh. “Seriously, Steve is great. He interacts well with the kids and really gets involved with the trips. He goes above and beyond. He’s always there to help. Every trip is a good trip that Steve is on.”

Estrada says Gardner’s helpful attitude extends to other areas.

“He’s the first one here and the last one to leave at night,” Estrada said. “And if Steve is going down to Denver for a personal trip, he’ll ask us if we need a part or anything picked up while he’s down there. That saves us a special trip to Denver, which ultimately saves Re-1 money. And he just does it out of the kindness of his heart.”

Buses from both sides

Gardner, a 1971 Glenwood Springs High School graduate, grew up riding school buses around Glenwood Springs himself. Gardner drove buses in Aspen for nine years before taking a job with Re-1 in 1999.

He said some things haven’t changed much since the days a driver named Tex used to drive his school bus. Mostly, buses are filled with wonderful kids, and occasionally, they act up.

“We’ve got a great group of kids in this district,” Gardner said. “They’re well-behaved, too. It’s always important to remember that 10 percent of the kids create 90 percent of the problems. But I’m not bashful about writing kids up if they’re acting unsafe.”

Gardner said he broke up a food fight on one of his buses recently.

“It got to be too much,” he said. “I wrote up 15 kids right there. My job is to make sure they get home safe.”

Now that summer vacation is here, Gardner will be filling his time taking his boat to area lakes before another school year begins in the fall.

“I don’t think we say it enough,” he said. “We’ve got great teachers, and the district always makes sure we have top-notch equipment. This is one of the greatest places to work. I think we should take a lot of pride in that.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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