DeSmet had lengthy career behind wheel
He has pulled the handle to open and close the double doors on a school bus for what probably feels like "a million times".
Fran DeSmet, 80, recently retired as a school bus driver in Minneota following a 47-year career.
"I enjoyed it," DeSmet said. "I liked getting up in the morning and driving bus and seeing the kids."
DeSmet started driving bus in 1975 and has driven an estimated 400,000 miles during his two-a-day bus routes over all those years; mostly driving bus number one.
Prior to driving a school bus, DeSmet was a farmer. But when crops were battered with hail one summer, he decided to change professions.
"We had a bad hail storm and I had no crop or nothing to sell," he explained. "I heard they were looking for bus drivers at the school so I went and talked to Ralph Lason, the superintendent. He asked me if I wanted to drive and that he would get me set up."
DeSmet agreed to drive and went to Ivanhoe for bus training.
"My training was with a police officer or a state highway patrol, I don't recall which one," he said. "They put me through a bunch of diving tests. I had to back the bus into an alley, and park, and things like that. I passed the tests so I decided to quit farming."
DeSmet also landed a job around that same as a custodian at St. Edward's, where he remained on the job there for 32 years.Over the years, DeSmet recalled both good and bad times behind the wheel of his school bus.
"I came over a hill one time and hit a deer time that was running in front of the bus," he said. "It wrecked the headlight and front panel. I also got stuck one time during a snowstorm and a guy with a back hoe came and pulled me out."
Icy roads are another thing he won't miss.
When asked about ever having a dispute on the bus or having to deal with unruly kids, DeSmet could not think of a single incident.
"I had good kids, I guess," he said. "I don't ever recall anything like that happening. I don't care for the cellphones, though. At night, the kids' phones are lit up and it was kind of a distraction while I was driving because I could see the lights in my (rearview) mirror. But I never said anything."
Over his many years of driving, the bus companies (currently 4.0 School Service) have installed things on the buses to keep the kids safer.
"I remember when the two-way radios were put in the bus," DeSmet said. "We could call the bus garage if we got stuck or broke down. And just in the last year or so, they installed cameras on the stop arms so if someone goes around the bus while the stop arm is down, it takes a picture of the vehicle."
DeSmet decided to put the bus in park for good when he developed COVID this past September. After his 14-day incubation period was over, he met with bus officials and decided to stop driving. His last day was Oct. 14.
DeSmet and his wife, Doris, live in Minneota. They have nine children, 23 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Not counting all the children that he took care of on the bus over 47 years.