Driven to be the best

South Range husband and wife honored with statewide ‘School Bus Drivers of the Year’ award

South Range school bus drivers Anthony and Janet Freedy were recently honored as “School Bus Drivers of the Year,” the first time a couple has received the award and the first for any driver in Mahoning County. (Salem News photo by Kevin Howell)

BEAVER TOWNSHIP — What is a school bus driver?

Someone who just lets children onto a vehicle that takes them to school and back home?

Not in the least, according to Anthony and Janet Freedy, bus drivers with the South Range Local School District.

The Freedys last month earned the recognition of “School Bus Drivers of the Year” at the Ohio Association of Pupil Transportation Conference, the first time a husband and wife honored, as well as any driver from Mahoning County.

And they were not recognized because they “just” transported children to and from school.

South Range school bus drivers Anthony and Janet Freedy were recently honored as “School Bus Drivers of the Year.” From left, Anthony Freedy, South Range Transportation Director Ryan Dunn and Janet Freedy. (Submitted photo)

“People say all a bus driver does is open a door to let a kid in or out, but that’s not bus driving,” said Anthony. “We build relationships with children. It’s all about them, understanding that someone cares about them.”

The couple, who also celebrated 50 years of marriage the same week of their award, have lived on state Route 165 the past 47 years, less than a mile form the current K-12 campus. They raised three children who graduated South Range and have seven grandchildren, four of whom attend South Range.

They both view their job as much more than just a profession.

“It’s not just a job, it’s a position that we feel is our ministry,” explained Janet. “We’re very proud to be an example for the South Range community.”

Janet has been driving for the district approximately 37 years, starting as a way to help out her family financially while not being away from their children. She was able to be home with her children before they went to school, after they returned and during the summer. Anthony has been driving for the district the past 17 years after spending five with Poland following a career in banking.

Janet transports special needs student while Anthony transports students north of North Lima.

“I’m so glad the Lord has allowed us such a position,” Janet said, sharing her husband’s love for the children of South Range.

Putting a priority on student safety, Janet said she tells the children on her bus that she can replace anything of material value, but she can’t replace them: they are one of a kind made by God.

“Parents have told me how much they appreciate that, making sure their child understands they are special,” she said. “Transporting special needs students, you get a greater appreciation for life and God’s plan. It keeps you humble.”

Having seen two generations of passengers, the Freedys understand their role in students’ lives.

“We can’t be grumpy even one day,” Antony explained. “We have to be there for the children. You have to know all their names, even the names of their dolls; get to know their parents.”

Anthony and Janet have attended funerals of their passengers’ loved ones, shared experiences with the students on trips, such as state tournaments. They have built a lifetime of relationships with the children on their buses.

The 2011-2012 yearbook is dedicated to them. They have received letters from senior students. Both are welcomed warmly by students when on campus.

“We attend 18 to 20 graduation parties each year, and often we’re told we’re the first ones on the list,” Janet said. “We’ve been told a party isn’t a party without the Freedys, and coming from a high school student, that’s something.”

Anthony said the relationships he builds with students take on a personal nature, “to the point where you take a personal interest in their characters.” He provided an example, citing his most disappointing memory on the job is when a student he had bused since a child lied straight to face.

“It was crushing,” he said.

The award they received last month only serves as a message they are doing something right, the said.

“I pray every day before driving — I want to be an example (for the children),” Janet explained. ” The award is a confirmation from God that we are doing His will. People can look at me and see the love of the Lord.”

“We’re just plain ol’ folk,” Anthony added. “You never expect anything like [being awarded], but the message is you’re doing something right when you get recognized like this.”

Ryan Dunn, transportation supervisor at South Range, nominated the couple. He said the two drivers are what every bus driver should be.

“These two stand out more than anybody else I have known,” he said. “They have the same passion, the same enthusiasm for the job — that’s what I want to get out of all the drivers.

“It’s such a wonderful job in what we can do for the kids. Everything we do can make or break a child, we see them first thing in the morning and last thing in the day, we help prepare them for the day or recover from the day.

“[The Freedys] are the epitome of the perfect driver — not only do they drive properly, but they make an impact on the students.”

Beyond their “jobs” as bus drivers, the Freedys are also familiar faces at school activities and are active members of the Locust Grove Baptist Church in Green Township. Janet is also known to the community as a ticket taker at the Canfield Fair.