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Eastern Elementary students, parents bid bus driver farewell

July 08, 2008|By JANET HEIM

It was the last day Denny Norris was running his route as driver of Bus 350 before retirement. He got to the first stop on Suffolk Drive in The Hamptons at Brightwood and found no students.

At the second, third and fourth stops, he found the same thing.

While Norris thought it odd, he figured the parents must have driven their children to school on the last day since they had to clean out their lockers.

At the fifth and final stop, though, there they all were, including a few riders who had moved away and now rode different buses. Armed with colorful posters, cards and handwritten letters, the students and their parents had gathered to bid Norris farewell, as their beloved bus driver made his final morning pickup in their neighborhood.

When Norris picked up riders for Eastern Elementary, he said they were all wearing matching T-shirts with a photo of him on it.

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"It was really a surprise. The parents really went all out," said Norris, 65, who noted the bus was being retired as well.

It was a recognition for a bus driver well-liked and respected by both students and parents. Besides the usual wishes for a happy retirement, sentiments such as "Thanks so much for being an awesome bus driver to our girls," "I don't think I'll ever meet anyone as nice and thoughtful as you," "Thanks for driving me!" and "In my whole school career, you've been the only bus driver I've ever ridden with" were common.

Norris went above and beyond, although he's quick to pass off any attention to himself. He said when one of his riders was recognized in the newspaper, he would cut out the story and put it on their bus seat as a way of acknowledging their accomplishment.

"They like being recognized," Norris said.

For a while, Norris' wife of 46 years, Doris, rode his bus as a paid assistant for a rider who needed special help. That ended when Doris had a stroke a couple of years ago, also a factor in Denny Norris' decision to retire a second time.

His first retirement came after 29 years of working at Eastalco Aluminum Co. as an equipment operator. After about six months, he got bored and applied to become a county school bus driver, which he has done for about nine years, he said.

He drove another route for about a year and a half, then bid on the route for Bus 350 when it opened. The route includes trips to Eastern Elementary and E. Russell Hicks Middle School, then a run to Funkstown and Emma K. Doub elementary schools.

Norris attributes his success to setting guidelines on the first day of school, as instructed. He said he had an understanding with the students on his bus, that there would be "no carrying on, no fighting" and that he wanted to be treated the way he treated them -- with respect.

"When you've got a bunch of good kids like we did, it's good," Norris said.

A native of Washington County, Norris grew up in the West End and graduated from South Hagerstown High School. The Norris' live in Spring Valley Wooded Estates.

They have three children, three grandchildren, one great-grandchild and a male Bichon Frise named Boomer.

Retirement plans include yardwork, family cookouts and traveling on their new "toy" a Stallion, a new trike motorcycle. They said theirs is the first one sold in Maryland, so they get lots of questions about it.

The couple recently traveled to Gatlinburg, Tenn., and hope to drive to Cape Cod and the Smoky Mountains. They also like to go for shorter rides with the GWRA Motorcycle Club in Greencastle, Pa.

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