Tahoe-Truckee bus driver calls it a career after 35 years of transporting students
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — After logging roughly a million miles busing students to and from school for more than three decades, Kathie App has made her final stop.
On Friday, App completed her Truckee-Squaw Valley-Tahoe City-Kings Beach route for the final time, ending a 35-year-career as a bus driver for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.
“I’m very sad,” App said on the cusp of her retirement. “I know I’ll still see the kids, but not in the same capacity, and all my family at the bus garage, they are like my kids now. … I will still see them. It’s just going to be a different lifestyle.”
App started driving buses for TTUSD in September 1979, shortly after moving to North Lake Tahoe from her hometown of Sun Valley, Calif., following a visit to the area.
Originally, she applied for an elementary teaching position with the school district, but during the application process, App was asked if she had any other skills. She did — she had a Class A driving license, meaning she could operate a semi-truck.
“So I just went and started (driving buses) and thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just do this until I get a real job,’ and I’m still doing it,” App said during an interview two days before retiring.
When asked why she stayed with the job, her answer: “the kids.”
“Even if you are in a bad mood, they make you laugh. They all make you laugh,” she said. “… These little kids would just pour their hearts out, and they just tell you their life story. They don’t have that filter that they are not supposed to say that, and you just get attached.”
‘PART OF THE FAMILY’
Over the years, it’s estimated that App has shuttled thousands of TTUSD students, everyone from preschoolers to high schoolers.
Among those she has driven is Evelyn Alonzo, a freshman at North Tahoe High School.
“She knows how to make your days happy and bright every time (you) would get on the bus,” Alonzo said. “Every time we would get on the bus, she would always greet us with a smile, and that is what makes her, her — she is always a happy person.”
Not only has App endeared herself to students, but parents as well.
“She’s part of the family,” said Arturo Orozco, a parent of two students at Tahoe Lake Elementary School. “I think of her that way. She cares so much about the kids.”
If App notices issues or has concerns about a student, she contacts his or her parents or guardians, said Nanette Rondeau, director of transportation for TTUSD.
“One of the things that is so wonderful about Kathie is when she gets to know the student, she also gets to know their family, so she takes it upon herself to be in communication with the family,” she said. “… Kathie is really strong and big on building relationships with parents.”
Helping foster that relationship with parents is the fact App may have driven them, their parents or relatives to school years ago.
“One of the things that has made it very successful for us having Kathie on board is that she has built and developed a high level of trust with our … families,” Rondeau said. “She has history with our families in our community, so having history gives her the ability to have quality conversations with the students.”
‘CAN’T WAIT TO SLEEP IN’
Seeing those students grow up into good people is what makes her job gratifying, App said.
“You just feel like you are doing something, you’re helping,” she said. “They say, ‘It’s takes a village.’ They need so much different input.”
While she describes her 35-year career as being “great,” App said is looking forward to having additional free time now that she is retired.
“I just want time to do nothing,” she said. “My whole life has been schedules, time constraints.”
During the school year, App awoke at 4 a.m. and arrived at work at 5:45 a.m. From 6:15 to 9:15 a.m., she’d pick up and drop off students at school.
From 9:15 to noon, she had a break, before going back on the road to pick up and drop off students, finishing her day at about 5 p.m.
“I’m so tired of the 4 o’clock wake-up call.,” App said. “I can’t wait to sleep in until 7. It’s going to be wonderful.”
While she’s retiring, App said will continue arranging department parties and volunteering for the Special Friends program — a district-wide, K-5 grade social-emotional support program — and she hopes to come back in September to be a sub bus driver.
“We’re excited about that, and it kind of gives us a little bit of peace that she’s not gone forever,” Rondeau said.
To learn more about the district’s transportation program, visit ttusd.org and click on “Transportation” under the “Departments” heading.