Bus driver puts the miles behind her

Published 7:23 pm Friday, July 6, 2012

Monteen Waters, veteran school bus driver for Beaufort County Schools, sits behind the wheel of a bus one last time. Waters retired this summer after 29 years of service. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

Monteen Waters has driven just about every road in Beaufort County, traveling as many as 330 miles in a single day. But at 81 years old, Waters has set her parking brake for the final time and now plans to let someone else do the driving for a change.
For decades, Waters has risen before daybreak and set out to collect the children of Beaufort County, shepherding them to and from school on a big yellow bus. She traveled the back roads and highways, bus routes that through the years ended at the doors of Pantego Junior High, Beaufort County Elementary School, John A. Wilkerson High School and Northeastern Elementary.
“I guess I’ve been on every route out there,” said Waters. “Except maybe Pamlico Beach and Hyde County.”
Waters retired this year with 29 years of driving behind her, though the plaque she received for her service says 25. According to Waters, that’s because back when she started driving, record keeping was not as comprehensive. Waters is certain of the year, though, because at the time, her sixteen-year-old son got his bus license and asked his mother to get hers so she could substitute for him.
“Six months later, the route was mine,” Waters laughed.
Since then she’s carted generations of Beaufort County School students from home and back again. When Waters’ daughter, Judi Sterrenberg, put a post on Facebook informing locals of her mother retirement, she said the response was overwhelming.
“People said, ‘She carried me. She carried my children. I can’t believe she’s retiring,’” said Sterrenberg.
Knowing the children she picked up — and their parents — meant that Waters had other options when it came to kids acting up on her route.
“I’ve always tried to solve the problem if I could myself,” Waters explained. “I’ve had to write up a few. Most of the time I could just change their seats. But I knew most of the parents on the bus route because I drove them to school. We’d work problems out before letting the school know.”
The treatment of bus drivers and staff became headline news recently when four middle school boys were captured on video bullying Greece, N.Y. bus monitor, Karen Klein. The video went viral and the boys severely reprimanded by their school and community.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever had anyone on my bus like that,” said Waters. “If I had, I know someone would have stopped them.”
On the record, Waters was a good driver. In 29 years she was never in an accident, got stuck a minimum of two times and experienced only two flat tires.
“Maybe they took good care of my bus because I was so old,” Waters laughed.
The most treasured memory Waters carries away from her career is the many years of little ones spying her in the school hallways, calling her name and running up to hug her around her knees. Now that she’ll no longer be hitting the road, Waters plans to take up sewing again and let her daughter take the wheel.