With nearly 66 years and hundreds of thousands of miles logged behind the steering wheel of a school bus in Pleasant Hope, Carl Fisher officially went into retirement in August. But he will never forget the friendships he has made through the years.
“I love people so much. I like to be around people,” he said. “I’ve got so many good friends, and they mean so much to me.”
Born in Polk County and raised in the Van Town/Sunset area, Fisher started driving a school bus when he was 16, but that bus wasn’t his own. His dad’s Dodge “bus” had benches along the sides on which students sat, along with stools tucked away under the benches that students could pull out and sit on when the benches reached capacity.
And but for a “short time” spent in California, 81-year-old Fisher — soon to be 82 — has lived in Polk County and said he had a calling to be a school bus driver.
Not too surprising, though, considering his father (John), uncle and several other relatives have driven school buses in Pleasant Hope.
Holder of the Guinness World Record for length of service as a school bus driver, Fisher said he has hauled students from three generations of some families.
“I tell you, they are like family,” Fisher said. “I just felt like they were one of the family. It’s that love for kids. You want to help them.”
The first school bus he purchased new, a 1969 Chevrolet, cost about $6,000, he recalls. And it was the first bus he recalls owning that had a heater in the back for the students.
Before that, the only heater on the bus was for the driver, but Fisher said it wasn’t too effective.
“My defroster blows more air than the heater in my old bus,” he said.
When the Vo-Tech School opened in Louisburg in 1971, he continued running his regular route and added the Louisburg route.
“Morrisville would meet me in Pleasant Hope and Bolivar would meet me in Half Way,” he said, “so I handled four schools.”
Due to scheduling conflicts, he had to end his regular route in 1991 when the Pleasant Hope district started sending vocational students to Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield rather than going to Louisburg.
“On this vo-tech run, it wasn’t trying to make a little money,” he said. “It was trying to help the kinds any way I could. I told them to call if they had any trouble. I tried to help them if I could.”
Fisher has always been more than a school bus driver, though, a job that he says is just part time.
“You can do so many other things and drive a bus,” he said. “For 47 years, I’ve mowed the graveyard — and still do.”
He also ran a filling station in town, as well as finding other pursuits when school was out of session during the summer. In the early 1960s, he drove a few summers for Continental Trailway out of St. Louis and Springfield, logging about 30,000 miles each summer.
He also had several summers when he hired high school boys who were on his bus route to haul hay for area farmers, mostly in Polk County.
“I would pick the big boys that wanted to work and needed to work,” he said.
Now that he is retired after 65 years and six months of driving a school bus in the same district, Fisher continues to take care of his stock cattle, mow the graveyard, play cards with his sisters — June Altic and Connie Arnold — and other friends at least twice a week and attends music shows with his sisters. Sometimes, he is even the one singing on stage.
Fisher plans to be on stage during his retirement bash and school fundraiser Saturday, Nov. 24, at Pleasant Hope Middle School, along with his son, J.C., and his partners in The Texas Tenors, a singing group that became popular after appearing on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” three years ago.
“He always has given back to other people all his life,” J.C. said of his father. “We wanted to do something special for him.”
J.C. adds that his dad didn’t drive a school bus for nearly 66 years just because it gave him a paycheck.
“He drove for them so many years, and he didn’t consider it work,” J.C. said. “My dad just liked to do it. He loved doing it for the kids. He just always was giving back.”
And now it’s the community’s turn to give back to Carl, though J.C. said Carl wants to continue giving back, which is why the event includes fundraising.
“He wants to give to the school because they’ve given him so much,” J.C. said.
Musical entertainment begins at 1 p.m., with the Texas Tenors taking the stage a little later in the afternoon, but early enough to make it back to Branson for a show that evening. J.C. has made arrangements for nearly a dozen Branson acts also to perform.
“We’ll have some great performers,” J.C. said. “My dad loves country music, so we will sing mostly country music. But we may do some variety.”
Fisher also has three daughters: Karen Henson, who lives next door to him; Carla Wootten, who is a music teacher at Pleasant View and also has taught at Pleasant Hope and Morrisville; and Kathy Andello, who is a Realtor in Houston, Texas.
For Fisher, driving a bus is about more than driving a bus — it’s about the people whose lives he has impacted along the journey.
“Without my friends, I’d be lost,” he said. “That’s the way it’s always been. It’s been a lot of fun.”