Driver’s special touch to be missed after 35 yearsShe’s caring, outgoing and opinionated, and she has made a career out of giving students a lift — physically as well as emotionally. When Lee Ann Keogan retires June 12, the special needs bus driver for the Superior School District will be missed.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
She’s caring, outgoing and opinionated, and she has made a career out of giving students a lift — physically as well as emotionally. When Lee Ann Keogan retires June 12, the special needs bus driver for the Superior School District will be missed.
“My son’s been on her bus since he was three years old,” said Mary Jo Manion. “He’s 20 now.”
For 17 years, she has put her trust in Keogan to transport her son, Sean, safely.
“She’s been like a mother to him,” Manion said.
Parents of other children who ride Keogan’s bus had similar responses.
“She’s kind and patient with this little one here,” said Melissa Vagle as she hugged her son, Alex, on the steps of Keogan’s bus. “We’d keep her, but she’s leaving us.”
For 32 years — 35 if you include her time as a substitute — Keogan has driven school bus for the district, 28 of them behind the wheel of the special needs bus.
“I really don’t think she does realize how much people appreciate her,” said fellow special needs bus driver Barb Sorenson. “She’s a good gal, always willing to help somebody.”
It takes a certain person to drive one of the district’s three special needs routes, said Tom Geisler, transportation director for the Superior School District.
“They typically have a special rapport with the kids, they know their wants and needs,” Geisler said. “Somebody who truly cares about special needs children.”
The drivers work with children of all age levels and the full gamut of special needs, from autism and cerebral palsy to hearing impairment and behavior issues.
“There’s time you can be strict and certain times you can’t,” Sorenson said, and each student reacts differently.
Keogan spends all day on the bus with her aid, Chris Backlund. From 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., they travel throughout Superior making stops at five different schools as well as other sites, including the Challenge Center and Head Start centers.
“I’m all over town,” Keogan said.
As they bus students around the two discuss traffic and talk with students.
“She’s a great, genuine person,” Backlund said. “She has a great rapport with families.”
And with the students. Sometimes people shy away from special education students because they don’t know what’s acceptable and what’s not, Sorenson said. Keogan breaks those barriers down with kindness, humor and affection.
“Because of her personality she can joke with the kids,” Sorenson said. “They really like her.”
When the bus stops at the Challenge Center, former students gather around to visit with Keogan. The bus driver gets Christmas cards from families of young adults who once rode her bus. One current student ends each bus ride by telling Keogan, “Love ya, babe.”
Their feelings are returned, with interest.
“I love the kids,” Keogan said. “These kids, they’re all special.”
Today, the bus driver plans to take the day off to go swimming with students at the Superior-Douglas County YMCA. Next week, Geisler will present her with her very own retirement newsletter. Keogan is looking forward to taking up fishing and pursuing the hobbies she’s put on hold, but it is a bittersweet time.
“I truthfully believe it will be hard for Lee Ann to leave without shedding a few tears,” Geisler said.
The driver agreed.
“It’s going to be very, very hard to walk away on the 12th,” she said.