SMALL TOWNS: Still driving a school bus at age 87

Betty Hawley planned to retire 23 years ago, but then a friend gave her an idea for another career
Betty Hawley planned to retire 23 years ago, but then a friend gave her an idea for another career
Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 6:30 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 6:55 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - School bus drivers across Northeast Wisconsin are back in the routine of transporting students to and from school.

And for one of the oldest drivers in the state, it’s a second career she never expected. This week in Small Towns, we hop on board Betty Hawley’s bus in Oshkosh.

Two days before the state of the new school year, Betty and the rest of the drivers for Kobussen Buses head out on practice runs for their upcoming routes.

This fall marks Betty’s 23rd year behind the wheel, and at the age of 87, she’s nowhere close to feeling her age.

“Not yet!” says Betty with a laugh.

In 2001, after working at Miles Kimball for 25 years, Betty planned to retire. That is, until she ran into a friend at a birthday party.

“And he said, ‘Oh you should drive a school bus,’ and I said, ‘I don’t think I could pass a test.’ And I don’t know why but I went down to the DMV, and I did pass it,” says Betty.

But not before a few nerve-racking days that made her feel like she was back in school.

“I had about this many sheets of paper I had to study. I was very nervous about it, but the people were so nice about helping me to get through it that once I got through it, I started driving,” explains Betty.

And right away, Betty discovered she had a job she thoroughly enjoyed.

“And I love it, I just love it. I love the kids. My grandchildren are getting kind of older, and last year I had mostly 4K, so that was very much fun,” says Betty.

It’s the little ones Betty treasures the most, cherishing every one of their priceless comments.

“This little girl, this is about maybe three years ago, little 4 or 5-year-old, she came on the bus, and she said, ‘Why is your hair white?’ I said, ‘Well when you get older your hair gets white,’ and she goes, ‘Well why don’t you dye it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, don’t you like my hair?’ ‘No,’ she said, and she went and sat down,” says Betty before breaking out in laughter.

Betty says if there is any downside to driving her school bus, it’s sometimes sharing the road with other drivers while she’s transporting her precious cargo.

“People these days, they just don’t seem to watch what they’re doing when they’re driving. So many times I’ve had people, they don’t even slow down for the yield signs. They see a yellow bus but they just keep going. You learn early on, you stop and look for everything,” says Betty.

Because she’s over 70, Betty must pass a physical each year and a CDL exam every two years.

No sweat for her, says the bus company, describing Betty as valued, reliable, and a mentor to younger drivers.

“We can always count on her being here, always in good spirits. Kids love her, the monitors on the bus, and we’re just glad to have her here. Every year she passes her physical, comes in, does everything we need, does more than we ask. So those are the employees that are huge and they’re the concrete of our company,” says Shawn Young, Kobussen Buses safety director.

As the other drivers see it, Betty is simply one-of-a-kind.

“Very energetic person, I can’t believe it. I get tired thinking about her,” says fellow driver Judy Schneider.

Full of energy and with a love for her little passengers, Betty has no plans of hopping out of her seat any time soon.

“My daughter thought I should retire this year, and I said, ‘But I don’t want to.’ As long as I can still move and do it, I don’t want to just sit home. If you like what you’re doing, you might as well do it,” says Betty with a smile.

Betty believes one of the keys to her bus driving longevity is staying active.

She plays pickleball every day between her morning and afternoon routes.


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