Ampersand

Fifty Years and a Busload of Memories

Sep 06, 2017

To the Southern Regional Community:

In 1967, my husband Bill and I moved our family from Philadelphia to Ship Bottom. At that time, Southern had only one building. There were only 17 buses and drivers who transported students from Barnegat, Waretown, Bass River, Long Beach Island and Stafford to the building that is now the 9-10 school. If you were a taxpayer on vacation, your child could go to summer school for free at Southern.

The bus drivers wanted to form a union, which was a definite “no-no” at the time and Superintendent Robert Allen would not allow it. They were told to sign their promise of employment by July 1 or their job would be terminated. Only three drivers signed and the rest were let go. In the need for additional drivers, an ad was placed. I had never heard of a woman driving a bus, but I applied.

After being trained in the school parking lot by the N.J. Department of Transportation, I was behind the wheel, driving summer school, and my part-time job turned into a lifetime career. I had a starting salary of $2,500 for 10 months and 50 cents extra per day if I drove to Holgate, Warren Grove or Barnegat Light. On one of my first runs, I had the pleasure of having a bus seat thrown out the window of my bus onto Hilliard Boulevard. Embarrassed, I continued the run and went back to pick up the seat later, never having told anyone.

Mel Munson was principal, a wonderful man. He played Santa at Christmas and walked through the halls singing Christmas carols with everyone. Ed Steinerson was head of maintenance and always made sure the stage at graduation was decorated with all the natural mountain pinks he could cut from the woods. Dr. Richard Gove, local legislator DiAnne Gove’s father, was school physician.

In 1971, Stanley Seaman was transportation bus coordinator. He was planning to retire and offered his position to my husband, Bill. This was a wonderful opportunity for our growing family, but the school had a nepotism policy and would not hire two people in one family under a contract. It was more important my husband had the job so I stepped down from my full-time position and became a substitute. After three years, the school policy changed and I was rehired.

Over the years, I have seen the middle school built and catch on fire, the high school closed for broken water pipes, the extra science wing addition built and the completion of our beautiful new 11-12 building. There have been many emergencies and evacuations throughout my time, and we have always been there as the community needed us, some drivers working through the night and weekends to transport people or to help pick up food donated by local stores to feed evacuees in the building. In 1976, Hurricane Belle had us sleeping in buses parked in front of the middle school with evacuees who had animals and were therefore not allowed inside the building.

We had fun times, too. I can recall taking the marching band to the Ship Bottom Parade. Afterward, all four buses of kids ended up at our house for a Halloween party that included hot chocolate, bobbing for apples, ginger snaps, soda and candy. Never once did anyone think of smoking pot, taking drugs, drinking or displaying any unruly behavior – just a lot of good clean fun and happy memories.

As “Mrs. P,” I have driven many of our community’s professional and business people to our school as students. DiAnne Gove, our state representative, former Beach Haven Mayor Debbie Whitcraft, butcher shop owner Okie Whitcraft, school board member Steve Berkheiser and businessman Jim Moran and his brothers are a few.

I have had “Danny,” who mooned me when he got off the bus (and who later had to apologize to me in the office in front of his dad) and “Charlie,” who threw raw eggs at my house on Halloween – I like to think it was his way of saying “I love you.” My own five children and three of my eight grandchildren graduated from Southern. There are so many I meet today and wonder, “I don’t remember growing older – when did they?” I loved and cared for each one of them with one goal in mind: to have them respect themselves and in return, they would hopefully respect each other.

So, parents, when the next hurricane threatens or the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant siren blows, look beyond the person behind the wheel as only a bus driver. We are one of you. We are as professional as the teaching staff. We are parents and grandparents, too, who have a special love for your child and often think of them as though they are our own. We are the first to see them in the morning, half awake, and the last to see them at night, knowing that just a smile or hello can change their attitude and make our day.

I will not be returning to drive this month. Since February, I have been on a roller coaster ride with the DOT due to what my doctor called “a shy bladder.” The process to clear my name has been degrading, humiliating and a long, hard mental struggle. I had planned on retiring this coming school year and could have easily walked away earlier, but I would never allow them to tarnish me in this way and was determined to prove my innocence. In June, after months of what would take pages to explain, I achieved my goal – I have completely cleared my name and had my license reinstated. I am proud to say I completed 50 years of service to Southern with a spotless record.

I want to thank you for giving me the privilege of driving your children and to thank my family, my department – Cindi, Tom and Kris – and all my friends for going the extra mile to help me achieve this goal. With your love and the grace of God, I did it my way for 50 years.

God bless you all.

Doris “Mrs. P.” Peraria

Manahawkin

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