'Make them smile': Utah school bus driver reflects on years of service

Mac McKell, pictured at the Alpine School District bus garage on Friday, has been a substitute school bus driver for 13 years.

Mac McKell, pictured at the Alpine School District bus garage on Friday, has been a substitute school bus driver for 13 years. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)


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AMERICAN FORK – It's a Wednesday morning, and 74-year-old Mac McKell of American Fork laces up his shoes, puts on his cap and heads to the bus garage down the street to pick up his bus.

Where he's headed is not the same place he went yesterday, or likely the day before. But what he's doing is as important to him as it has been for the past 13 years: He's driving kids to school.

Since 2009, McKell has been a substitute bus driver for the Alpine School District, and this past week, the nation celebrated bus drivers during "Love the Bus" week. And while McKell says he enjoys the free donuts, nacho bars and raffle prizes, what he really loves is being able to interact with students.

"It's so fun to be appreciated, and to have a fun week like this," McKell said. "My favorite part so far has been getting a poster from kids at an elementary school with all their names signed, telling me thank you for driving them to school."

McKell is retired and works as a substitute driver. He said that he wouldn't have it any other way because he gets to interact with so many different kids.

"I am just a substitute driver, but I drive every day, and it's a different group of kids each time," he said. "I've probably driven to every school in the district, and I've gotten to know so many kids over the years."

He spoke about the different ages of children, and how each age brings its own set of challenges and rewards.

"The junior high kids are at that age when they're leaning on fences, and they're going to push your limits," he said. "The elementary kids – well, you gotta love the elementary kids! And those kindergartners are really something else, aren't they?"

McKell recalled a time years ago when he had a conversation with a kindergartener whom he shared something in common with: They were both named after their grandfathers.

"When I told the boy that I was also named after my grandpa, he didn't believe that I had a grandpa, and then asked me how old I was," McKell recalled. "When I told him how old I was, he said, 'I'm surprised you're not dead!'"

McKell, who is also a park ranger at the Timpanogos Cave National Monument during the summer months, says that it is so fun to be able to see many of the kids he drives to and from school, and to have them remember him.

"I often see kids I drive to school come through and take a tour at the caves," McKell said. "Some will point to me and say, 'Hey, I know you!' I always joke back at them and say, 'I remember you, because I remember all the troublemakers!' And then we laugh."

But with each child met, and conversation had, McKell said the most important part of his day is the very first greeting in the morning.

"There are many times when I am the first interaction that these kids have in the morning, and it is so important that I make it a good one," McKell said. "I say good morning to every student, and my goal is to make them smile."

McKell will turn 75 in March, and says that he is often asked how long he will keep driving a school bus. To that, he said that he has two rules of thumb: Safety and fun.

"I always tell people that safety is my first priority, and if I don't feel like I can do the job safely, I won't do it anymore," he said. "Another thing is that it has to be fun. If it gets to the point where it feels like a job, and I'm not having fun, that's another cue for me to stop."

For now, McKell said he is having a great time, and that he looks forward to the daily call to drive a new group of kids to school.

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Arianne Brown has been a contributing writer at KSL.com for many years with a focus of sharing heartwarming stories.

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