The following was written by Tanya Southerland, Director of Public Relations for the Natrona County Public School District to honor and recognize Willa Bywater who is retiring after 38 years of serving as a bus driver for the Natrona County School District:
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Making Memories and A Positive Impact with Every Mile, NCSD Bus Driver, Willa Bywater, Retires After 38 Years Behind The Wheel.
October 20th, 2021
Casper - After 40 years of dedicated service to NCSD students, school families, and the community, Willa Bywater drove her final bus route on October 1st. An emotional farewell met her at the start of her last route as Willa climbed the steps of her big yellow bus, got situated into her chair, and fastened her seatbelt to prepare for her final journey behind the big wheel. She joyfully waved to her colleagues, whom she refers to as a family, with a few tears glistening in her eyes, “I have loved my job. Seeing your friends each day, becoming like a family with your coworkers, we have fun, and we take our job seriously. You have to be dedicated, you have to want to do it, and you have to love kids. You have to have compassion for kids. It’s a great place to be and a great place to work. I’m going to miss it very much.”
For the past 38 years, Willa has dedicated her time and energy to ensuring each student coming aboard her bus receives a friendly and welcoming smile. Willa began her extraordinary journey with the Natrona County School District as a custodian at Dean Morgan Junior High, where she served for two years before becoming a full-time bus driver. Willa was interested in becoming an evening custodian at the school, which previously came with a requirement to learn to drive the school bus in case the need arose for a substitute driver. A luck of fate, as you would have it, after completing the training, Willa knew her heart was in transportation, so she continued forward on that successful career path, “I was raised on a ranch, I always drove the stock trucks, so it was just a natural fit. And I sure loved and enjoyed seeing the students from day one,” explained Willa.
The wheels on the bus have quite literally gone round and round as Willa’s career with NCSD has taken her across the community and state. Beginning her career with a west side bus route, she feels fortunate to have driven various routes across the district, making lasting memories and a positive impact with each mile. The routes and busses may have changed over the years, but one thing remained the same, Willa’s compassion for her students. “My first bus was so cold. I used to wear two pairs of socks to stay warm. We have Cadillacs as busses today compared to what we used to have. But the kids haven’t changed. People always say “kids these days” but, they’re the same. They need your love and understanding, and respect. How you treat them, they’ll treat you. It’s wonderful to get to know all of the students, encourage them, and get to be a support for them. I’m more than just their bus driver.”
Later in her career, Willa spent time driving and perhaps, making some of her fondest memories as an Athletics and Activities driver. “After my daughter graduated, I started driving the activities routes,” shared Willa. “I’ve had so much fun driving the teams, especially basketball. The coaches and students have been so good to me throughout all the years. I just love all those kids.” Intent on making a positive difference in students’ lives, Willa recalls a simple gesture from a high school student, Ethan Applegate, that left a positive impact on her life. “One day we had stopped at Walmart on an athletic trip. All the kids went inside to get their stuff and Ethan, well, he stopped and asked me, “What’s your favorite soda?”. So, I told him, and sure enough, he came right back outta that Walmart with a soda for me.”
Understanding and believing in the positive impact every employee of NCSD can make on a student’s educational journey and future, Willa finds happiness and pride in seeing students excel later in life, “It’s good to see what the kids have become over my career. Jackson is a fireman now. Micah is an extraordinary businessman. So many of them have become teachers, including Applegate. One is a policeman.” Over the years, some of Willa’s former bus riders have gone on to have children themselves who Willa greeted with that same welcoming smile as they climbed onto the bus, “It’s just really neat to see, and I love when I recognize the parents. I hope I had a positive impact on their lives.”
Upon retirement, Willa plans to continue sharing her infectious smile, welcoming nature, and positive energy with others in the community through her volunteer work at the Link. “I’m looking forward to fishing, spending time with my family, and getting to volunteer more,” shared Willa. “But I’m going to miss seeing their faces every day. My students and my coworkers. I wouldn’t have done anything else. I enjoyed my job. I loved my job.”
As Willa drove away from the bus garage on her final route to pick up students from school on that beautiful fall day, the NCSD Transportation team celebrated her with a signature “honk off”; the sounds of bus horns, clapping, and cheers echoing in the wonderful Wyoming wind. As she closes the door on this trip, Willa offers one last infectious grin and caring goodbye to her students and coworkers, “Thanks for being in my life.”
On behalf of NCSD, we want to say, “Thank you, Willa, for being an exceptional part of ours.”
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