Illene’s magic school bus: Wisconsin school bus driver retires after 55 years of service

SENECA, Wis. (WKBT) – It’s hard enough to find bus drivers, let alone keep one for half a century. A Seneca bus driver called it a career after more than 50 years.

Illene Olson pioneered a new generation of rural Wisconsin drivers.

“It’s like a big family,” Olson said.

Lives are built on moments.

“We’ve had lean years and we’ve had good years,” Olson said. “You take the good with the bad and you keep going.”

Olson knows moments on a farm are far from perfect.

“You can overcome that. It doesn’t have to be perfect,” she said. “It’s all in your attitude.”

Olson places value on each passing second.

“It’s been our way of life really,” she said.

More than half a century is spent with her husband Leonard Olson.

“In June, Leonard and I will have been married 60 years,” Olson said.

She gave 55 years to Seneca Schools.

“Yes, yes. I’ve driven school bus,” Olson said.

A lot changed over the years, especially the bus she drives.

“Oh, my goodness, it’s like the Cadillac of buses,” Olson said. “I wanted to keep on. I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, we got heated seats, I got engine braking. You know you name it that bus has it.”

At 25 years old, she chose a career where she earned respect.

“At that time, people didn’t think that women should be doing that,” Olson said.

Even her paychecks at that time went to Leonard, who drove a school bus for 56 years.

“So, I never got a paycheck,” Olson said.

Leonard always gave Illene what she earned along with his heart of support.

“He said, ‘You can do it. Just keep on,’” Olson said.

Olson bussed several generations of kids.

“And I’m not getting older,” Olson said with a smile. “The kids are catching up to me.”

Moments fuel the magic she believes exists with each passing school year.

“You get the kids at the best time,” Olson said. “They’re so thrilled.

“Time goes by fast.”

Leonard now battles his health. Olson knew it was time for this moment to end.

“I’m going out with a good record,” she said.

After all these years of driving, Olson says the one thing she’s going to miss the most, are the kids she drove to school every day.

“I just can’t explain it. I’ll miss my kids,” she said. “I had the best.”

Memories fall from her eyes.

“They’re always so special,” Olson said, as she pointed to drawings her students left her as a thank you for being their bus driver.

Tears of joy, from the evidence left behind. Thank you drawings that prove the impact she made on so many children.

“This one says, ‘Thank you Illene for driving the third bus. You are the best bus driver. Love Liam,’” Olson said.

“You are the best bus driver we will miss you … love Evie.’”

The respect is mutual.

“I looked up to them and they looked up to me,” she said.

This period passed by, but her recollections paint a permanent picture of a life of service that’s stood the test of time, because of the foundation, the Olsons built on the road ahead.

“I have so many, many, many good memories that I’ll cherish,” Olson said. “They’re still my bus kids.

“It’s a new adventure.”

Olson hopes more people will try driving a bus. She said people have a tremendous opportunity to make a positive impact on children.