by Dennis Dalman
It’s been a landmark month for Patty Schuneman of St. Stephen, a school bus driver who not only recently retired but who was honored with a “Transportation Specialist Award” from the Minnesota School Bus Operators’ Association.
Schuneman drove a Trobec bus for Sartell schools for 45 years. In all of those years, in driving through Minnesota’s often fickle and nasty weather, she never had an accident.
Schuneman was feted at the MSBOA convention at Sugar Lake Lodge near Grand Rapids recently. In presenting the plaque, the speaker praised her for her accident-free bus-driving years, and the audience applauded heartily.
“Patty’s always began and ended the day with a smile,” said the speaker.
It was a happy day, a happy month, for Patty, her husband Clarence and their children. It was pleasant to be honored by so many for a job she has always enjoyed. The Schunemans’ four daughters all attended the ceremony at Sugar Lake Lodge: Faye and Julie Schuneman of St. Stephen, Rennie Schuneman of Clear Lake and Amy Miller of Becker. Their two sons, Danny and David, could not make it. Two of the Schunemans’ other children died tragically of cancer – Mary Knettel at age 48, seven years ago and Mike, at age 52, five years ago.
In 1969, there was a need for a school-bus driver in the Sartell-St. Stephen area. Tony Trobec of Trobec’s Bus Service, St. Stephen, talked Schuneman into giving the job a try. Reluctant at first, she tried it. And loved it.
“Tony figured Patty’s a good ol’ farm girl, therefore she’d make a good bus driver,” Clarence said.
“The best thing about the job was all the good friends I made with the children,” Patty recalled.
Each school day, she would rise at 6:30 a.m. and make her rounds, picking up as many as 77 children to take to Sartell schools. In the afternoon, she’d do pickups at the schools and get home by 4:45 p.m.
“Last winter was about the worst winter ever of the 45 years I drove school bus,” Patty said. “A good winter to retire after. The worst kind of weather for driving school bus is when it’s foggy or icy.”
Some of Schunemans’ favorite school-bus driving memories relate to special times of the year, like Easter and Christmas, when children would bring her little gifts. During one Christmas season, all the kids on the bus – all but one little girl – proudly presented Patty with gifts. The girl, feeling abashed and a bit sad that she hadn’t brought a gift, walked up to Patty and bashfully gave her a big sugar Christmas cookie with a bite taken out of it.
On June 4, the official date of her retirement, Schuneman’s family and friends held a celebration for her in St. Stephen Lions Park. One daughter brought a bottle of champagne.
“It feels good that I’m retired,” Schuneman said. “That’s because I’m so busy. I have a big yard, a big garden. We have a summer place up north by Hackensack, and I love to fish – summer and winter. And now I can spend more time with my family.”
Patty Schuneman of St. Stephen, shown here with husband Clarence, recently retired after 45 years of driving school bus for Sartell schools. She was recently honored with a statewide award for her remarkable safety record – 45 years of driving without an accident.
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.