Bus driver honored for half century of service

Kingsland Superintendent Jim Hecimovich presents bus driver Dennis Hillesland with a cake and two model buses for his 50 years behind the wheel for the Spring Valley and Kingsland districts. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

The cake for Dennis Hillesland’s celebration. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

Kingsland students give their bus drivers a standing ovation during an awards ceremony held on Wednesday, May 30. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
By : 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Spring Valley Tribune

Dennis Hillesland is shifting gears from behind the wheel of a school bus to a less structured retirement.

“It’s been a good 50 years,” stated Hillesland, retiring from his before- and after-school job moving the wheels on the bus under students in the Spring Valley and Kingsland school districts.  Hillesland finished his last bus route on Thursday, May 31, then went home to start summer vacation the way he always has…sitting back with a good friend and a Pepsi and talking farming and tractors.

His career behind the wheel of a school bus began just before the start of school in 1968 way back when the district didn’t own its own fleet of buses. At that time, Dave King and Bob Churchill owned the buses with King owning 10 and Churchill two. The kids were Spring Valley Wolves then. 

“I had talked with him about being a bus driver, and Dave King talked me into it because he needed substitute drivers,” said Hillesland. “I told him that I couldn’t because I had a business, but he took me out to Doc Matson’s driveway, I turned the bus around in the driveway, and he said, ‘You’re hired.’  The buses were a little smaller then, and when I started, we had to shift the buses…they didn’t have automatic, but I had driven shift vehicles before.”

A few things have changed since he first put a bus into “drive.” For one thing, as a sub bus driver, he had to learn all 12 routes because he’d have to sub on all of them. 

“It used to be the Spring Valley Wolves when I started, and now, with open enrollment, the district has changed a lot.  Not as many kids live in the country, and you can go for miles and never pick up a kid,” he said. “And the kids got bigger, the seats in the buses got taller than when I started, so it got harder to see the kids in the seats.” 

One thing hasn’t changed, however.  Through all those years of driving a bus, he never had an accident and never went into the ditch. “I feel pretty fortunate about that,” said Hillesland.

He remarked that he enjoyed his job because it allowed him to maintain his business at the Spring Valley Greenhouse and meet the children of the community, adding that it seemed like it was time to retire when he noticed that the students he was delivering to school looked a lot like their grandparents did as children. 

“It worked well around the greenhouse — they covered for me there,” he said. “The kids seemed to like me.  I started out hauling kids who became parents and grandparents….”

Kingsland Superintendent and Principal Jim Hecimovich assembled the staff and students of the district to honor Hillesland during an awards ceremony Wednesday, May 30, presenting him with a school bus cake and two model school buses, one for each quarter century of service.

He was led into the ceremony at the school with the other bus drivers, not realizing he was about to be honored in front of the student body and staff for his many years of service.

“These are fine young people, and they and the Kingsland community wants to say ‘thank you.’  These kids love you to death,” said Hecimovich.

Hillesland cited that it felt rather strange to park the bus for the final time on the last day of school this school year. 

“I drove the last three days of school, and it was kind of fun.  Some of the kids said, ‘You aren’t going to quit, are you?’  I told them I was, because it’s time,” he said. “I was very pleased to see all the kids and faculty there…they gave me a cake and two little buses.” 

His plans for retirement will likely put him behind the wheel of a tractor, now that he’s not required to rise and shine on school days. 

“I’ve got plenty to do.  I work for a farmer, too, besides…by Ostrander.  I put his crop in and help him get it out in the fall,” said Hillesland. “I’ve had a good retirement.”