The kids help keep Perham bus driver of 56 years young
February 28 was the second annual School Bus Driver Association Day. The Minnesota School Bus Operators Association (MSBOA) and Minnesota Association of Pupil Transportation (MAPT) teamed up to create School Bus Driver Appreciation Day in Minnesota as a way to encourage school leaders, parents, and students to celebrate the profession.
Kent Zitzow, owner of Z Transportation in Perham, said he has 28 school bus drivers, and can always use more. Some drivers have just a morning or afternoon shift, or may drive only for extra curricular activities, while others, like Dennis Zitzow drive throughout the day.
Dennis is a fixture on the Perham roads. He's been a bus driver for 56 years, and during that time he's seen multiple generations of families ride his routes since he started in 1962—Steekes, Brasels, Ruthers, just to names a few. And it was Kent's grandpa, Ed Bauck, who hired Dennis back when the company was called Bauck Chevrolet.
Dennis isn't the only bus driver in the family. His wife, Marilyn, has been driving a school bus for over 40 years.
There are 18 routes in and around Perham, and the day starts for some drivers as early as 5 a.m. to check fluids and oil on the busses before they hit the road. Dennis said he gets in around 6 a.m. He likes to get to his first stop out on Highway 67 a little early just to make sure he's there on time.
The experience of the drivers range from Dennis's five decades to the newest driver of only a few months.
Dennis said the hardest part of the job can be the weather.
"The roads can be hard after a storm hits and you don't know what to expect as far as the road conditions," he said, describing them as the 'ying, yang' roads. "The ones that go this way and then that way," he said as he moved his hands back and forth.
He's quick with the answer to the question, what's the best part of the job, "Payday," he said with a chuckle from underneath the white beard and a quick glance over to his boss, and great-nephew. Then perhaps a little more serious answer, "My students on the bus are generally really good, or I wouldn't still be driving."
Why is he still driving after 56 years? It's not an uncommon question. "Good question," he answers with a laugh. "The kids keep you young." When he's not driving, Dennis has a 150 foot by 90 foot garden that keeps him busy and out of his wife's way, as he puts it, with a smile.
"I have everything in there, it's a good way to relax," he said.
He has more time for it in the summer. During the school year, it's an evening and weekend activity. During the day, he's in and out of the bus all day.
After he finishes his morning route, Dennis said he goes home and eats breakfast around 10:15 a.m., then heads back to shuttle kids between the schools for morning activities. He then takes a break early afternoon for lunch before it's time to get ready for the afternoon route. Dinner time is usually between 6 and 7.
Kent said he tells people driving a bus will keep you busy. "You don't sit around all day, you keep going."
Dennis and his wife Marilyn have three children, six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.