PLYMOUTH – When the Plymouth Community Food Pantry posted an advertisement seeking “clean, gently-used” winter coats, the staff at All-Star Transportation’s Plymouth terminal jumped into action.
The staff collected 30 coats and All-Star Transportation matched that total by purchasing 30 new coats that it also donated to the coat drive. Leslie Sheldon, All-Star’s operations manager, purchased and delivered the 30 coats to Sherry Hoag, an All-Star manager who brought the coats to the food pantry. Upon receiving the coats, Erin Kennedy, director of the food pantry, thanked the employees and All-Star for their contributions.
“We’re so appreciative,” Kennedy said. “We collected twice as many coats as last year, mainly thanks to you guys.”
The food pantry serves 665 people in the Plymouth area, including 200 children. Not surprisingly, it’s the children who are in the greatest need for coats. Typically, the food pantry works through the schools to collect coats, and now All-Star has become a resource.
“It is a great thing we here at All-Star accomplished. Being a bus driver is not only driving that big yellow bus to and from school, it’s also about caring for the precious cargo we transport and reaching out to the families in our communities when there is a need. It is a wonderful feeling,” Hoag said.
If you are interested in learning more about the food pantry, you can find more information on its website or its Facebook page.
OXFORD – Scott Friend is not one to toot his own horn, except when he is performing.
Friend, who drives Bus 12 for All-Star Transportation in Oxford, is one of the top musicians in Connecticut. He’s been inducted into the Bugler’s Hall of Fame, the Drum Corps Hall of Fame, the Connecticut Hurricanes Senior Drum & Bugle Corps Hall of Fame. And the Rhode Island Matadors Senior Drum Corps Hall of Fame. He also was a teacher and band leader at various public schools in Connecticut before retiring after 34 years.
“I started playing in the fourth grade, when I was nine years old, and I haven’t stopped,” says Friend, who after retiring from teaching joined All-Star in 2015.
In high school, Friend was selected as an All-State musician three times, and in his senior year he also was named an All-Eastern musician. To be selected for the All-State band, musicians must participate in a statewide audition before a panel of judges who evaluate their performance skills.
“It’s quite an honor,” says Friend, who remains connected with the Connecticut all-state program by serving as a chaperone. In that capacity, he watches over students when they gather to practice and perform at the all-state festival.
After graduating from high school, Friend joined the Navy and was selected to join the Navy music program. He was sent to the military’s music school in Norfolk, VA, and upon completion of that program, he was assigned to Unit Band 112 in Brooklyn, NY. He was based there for more than two years, and then was reassigned to the Navy band in Newport, RI.
Friend laughs that he joined the Navy to see the world, but was never based at any exotic location. Still, as a musician, he got around, doing 20 or more gigs each month as a member of the jazz band, concert band and brass quintet.
He ended his Navy career in 1975 and shortly after enrolled at the Boston Conservatory of Music. He stayed there for two years before transferring to the University of Connecticut, where his military veteran’s benefits helped make the cost of school more affordable.
“It’s also where I learned to sing, because I was studying to be a music teacher. To teach, you have to be able to sing and play,” he says.
Following the completion of his undergraduate degree, he took a job in 1980 at Bolton High School in Bolton, CT, where he taught band and chorus.
“It was a very challenging job. It was a small school with no band room,” he recalled. “In my first class I only had seven kids.”
Two years later, he took a teaching position at Naugatuck High School, where he remained for 21 years and built a highly successful band program. In fact, the band was selected for a rare honor in 1990 when it was invited to perform at a surprise birthday celebration for playwright Arthur Miller at Lincoln Center in New York City. Five years later, the band went to France to participate in events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. (The anniversary was celebrated with events spread out over a year, from 1994 to 1995.)
In 2002, Friend was recruited to lead the band program at Brookfield High School, where he joined a principal he had worked with at Naugatuck. He began teaching in Brookfield in January 2003 and retired as a full-time teacher in 2014, but continued to work as substitute. He also continued to work as a musician. He’s a member of the Connecticut Alumni Senior Drum and Bugle Corps, and he performs for various Broadway musicals across the state.
But he longed to do more in retirement. Driving a school bus appealed to him because he could continue to have the same work schedule he had grown used to over his career as a teacher and because it was an opportunity to work with kids.
“I like kids. You have to like kids if you are a teacher,” he says. “I saw that Seymour and Prospect (terminals) were advertising for drivers. I went to Seymour for an interview.”
He was hired in late fall 2014, and by early 2015 he was working as a substitute at All-Star Transportation’s terminal in Seymour. He also was loaned to the Oxford terminal as a substitute, driving Bus 12. Soon, he was told, “You’re going to stay in Oxford until we tell you to come back.”
When the school year ended, Friend had the option to drive in Seymour or Oxford, and after thinking about it, he decided to stay in Oxford, which is closer to his home in Southbury and where he had the opportunity to continue driving Bus 12.
“I find elementary kids to be a challenge, as do most others,” he says. “But I try to treat all my kids the way I would like to be treated. I try to engage them with a smile and with a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ I tell my high school kids that I am a former teacher, and if they ever need a tip to get by in school, to come talk with me.”
ANSONIA – When Dana Martinez and Annie Fisher scatter rocks they have collected, they are never quite sure where they are going to land. Some stay in the Ansonia area, where they drive school buses for All-Star Transportation, while others end up in places as far away as Florida, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
People who find the rocks treasure them because Martinez and Fisher have painted them with colorful images and inspirational words. So, wherever the rocks find a home is fine with the two ladies, because their goal is to spread a little joy. They call their project Valley Rocks CT.
“I saw painted rocks in Stuart, Florida, while visiting my sister,” Martinez said as she explained how her rock art began. On the back of the painted rocks was the inscription, Martin County Rocks. A Florida family started Martin County Rocks, hand painting rocks and tucking them in various locations for people to find.
In March, following her return from Florida and while coping with her late father’s illness, Martinez decided to launch Valley Rocks CT. For weeks, her husband, sister and brother-in-law painted rocks. Soon, Fisher joined the effort, painting rocks and helping to manage a Facebook page that now has more than 570 members.
“We just wanted to bring smiles to people,” says Martinez, who has been driving for All-Star for 10 years.
Fisher said that when Martinez first told her about the rocks, she thought it was “pretty interesting.” But she wasn’t sold on the idea until “I found one at a grocery store, and it brought a smile to my face.” Now Fisher, who has been driving for All-Star for 13 years, paints inspirational messages on her rocks.
“We bring them on charters and to the schools where we drive. It’s fun,” Martinez says. The high school students who ride her bus went wild over them this past spring, taking as many as they could.
She also tells the story of a woman who found one of their rocks that featured a painting of a lighthouse. The woman and her father had visited a lighthouse shortly before his death, and the discovery of the rock “helped her get though a rough day.”
The pair note that rock painting is a fun project for families. They also have hosted “pop-up parties” in local parks, where they invite their Facebook followers to join them for group painting sessions. Martinez also placed some of the painted rocks at the hospice that cared for her father, explaining, “It was nice. Something so simple had an impact on people.”
Both Martinez and Fisher said they didn’t consider themselves to be especially artistic or creative. “We didn’t know we could draw,” says Martinez, adding that no special talent is required and that anyone can create their own hand-painted rocks.
Some creations take a few minutes, while others can take hours. All that’s required is a good paint brush and some acrylic paint, and after a painting is done, a splash of clear coat to seal the final product from the elements. Then comes distribution.
“We don’t hide them. We just leave them for people to find. They can keep it, take it home, move it or replace it,” says Martinez. People can then contact their Facebook page to send photos of what the rocks have found or to post photos of their own creations.
MORRIS – To say that Dave Harkness is a man on the go would be an understatement.
Most days you can find him driving a school bus for All-Star Transportation in Washington. But he also runs a successful garlic festival, operates three concession trailers, restores old furniture, does some landscaping, and in his limited spare time, he collects and restores old school buses.
“I’m on the go every day,” he says. “And in the evenings, I’m in my office processing vendor applications and planning for the garlic festival.”
The garlic festival is held every fall at the Bethlehem Fairgrounds. It’s something that Harkness started 13 years ago with a few vendors and limited public interest. This year’s festival, which will be held Oct. 7-8, will have nearly 250 vendors, cooking demonstrations and live entertainment. And it is certain to be a sellout.
“A friend of mine pitched me the idea of a garlic festival,” Harkness recalls, explaining that such festivals were popular in other states, but Connecticut didn’t have one. His first festival was a disappointment. Only 30 vendors were registered, and after torrential rain on the first day, just 16 vendors opened for business. Now, the festival “has it all,” according to the Connecticut Post, and has become a must-attend event.
Harkness’ other successful venture involves three concession trailers. One sells mini donuts, the second sells lemonade and the third offers Italian ice. While the three visit various venues throughout the region, you can always find them on Sundays at the Elephant’s Truck flea market in New Milford. The flea market is a frequent location for the HGTV show, Flea Market Flip, and occasionally when the TV cameras pan the area, you can get a glimpse of the long lines at Dave’s Donuts, the name of his popular donut concession stand.
“I make the donuts fresh. They are mini donuts, plain or coated with cinnamon & sugar. I sell around 300 bags a day,” Harkness says. “It took a while to establish, but now people line up, place their orders, and there could be a 20-to-30-minute wait on busy days.”
The success of these ventures might be enough to keep most people busy, but not Harkness. His main interest, and passion, is collecting school buses.
“I’ve always wanted to be a school bus driver,” he says. While a student at the University Connecticut, where he earned a degree in horticulture, Harkness drove the campus shuttle buses for three years. In 2005, after graduating from UConn, he became a full-time bus driver for All-Star at its terminal in Washington. He went back to UConn in 2012 and drove their shuttle buses once again for two years before deciding “it wasn’t for me” and returning to All-Star.
In 2002, he bought his first school bus. It was a 1991 Ward International that had originally been a part of the First Student fleet. The bus was in rough shape with extensive rust, and so Harkness eventually sold it to a scrapper. Later, he learned the bus had been exported to Haiti, where it continues to provide service.
Harkness purchased his second bus in 2004, a 1993 Blue Bird International that he picked up at an auction, originally run by Dufour Transportation in Cornwall. He kept the bus until 2010, when it was sold and exported to Guatemala. A photo of the bus that Harkness posted online has become a hit on the Internet. The Espar heater company used the photo in an ad campaign, and the photo has since been converted to clipart that’s now being used on a T-shirt being sold online.
He acquired his next bus in 2007, a spare from All-Star’s Washington terminal. “I always enjoyed driving it, so I bought it,” he says. By 2010, he had the bus restored inside and out, and repainted grey and navy blue. He wanted to keep it yellow, but that’s not allowed for retired school buses registered in Connecticut. In the spring, he drives the bus to the Antique Automobile Club (AACA) Museum bus show in Hershey, PA. There, he parks it for others to admire.
His fourth bus was a 1962 Mack B-61 with a Wayne body that had spent most of its life in California. It was one of two ever built, and one of the earliest examples of a diesel/ air brake school bus put into service in the United States. He recently sold that to a Mack truck collector in New Hampshire. Harkness’ fifth, and most recent, acquisition is a snub-nosed, tandem axle 1980 Crown Supercoach that he bought in April. The bus is in good condition inside and out, although Harkness is planning some restoration work.
“It’s the heaviest duty and largest school bus ever built, and that’s why I wanted it,” he says. “These buses are becoming rarer and rarer. They were mainly used in California.”
Then pausing to admire his latest acquisition, he adds, “I just love the look of this bus.”
WATERBURY – Steve Rosko, All-Star’s director of maintenance, has been named a 2017 Garage Star. He was selected by School Transportation News and featured in the magazine’s latest issue. Here’s what the magazine wrote:
Steve Rosko began his career as an entry-level mechanic in 1985 at Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, Connecticut. Rising through the ranks in the school bus garage to the office and gaining experience and additional training. Rosko eventually became the director of maintenance for All-Star Transportation.
“Steve embraced the challenge,” said Leslie Sheldon, the company’s operation manager.
With a multitude of experience in a variety of positions, Rosko knows the ins and outs of school bus maintenance and all its technical aspects. He oversees a staff of 30 technicians who service more than 900 vehicles at three maintenance facilities throughout western Connecticut. Sheldon said Rosko rarely spends full days in his office since he’s always on the floor talking to his team as well as providing hands-on technical training. Everything for Steve happens in the garage.
“I’d be the first to help (my team) understand how to execute a successful job so they themselves can step into my position and do my job,” he explained while likening his technicians to “family.”
Rosko isn’t one to call in sick or take any days off either, but instead Sheldon said he always ensures the successful completion of any job. With automotive, heavy-duty and school bus certifications from ASE, he helped All-Star Transportation achieve one of the best maintenance records in Connecticut as well as led the maintenance staff to obtaining the ASE Blue Shield of Excellence for its fleet of gasoline, diesel and propane school buses.
You can read the article on the School Transportation News website here.
Some folks fear the number 13, but for Marilyn Maynard it is perfection. Over the past 13 years, she has not missed a day driving her school bus for All-Star Transportation.
“It never occurred to me not to work. I credit that to my upbringing,” she says. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat. I have always had that attitude.
“Plus,” she says with a smile, “I don’t like others driving my bus.”
Maynard has been driving for All-Star for 18 years, beginning in Torrington with Laidlaw, which All-Star acquired in 2004. She now drives bus 26 out of the Burlington terminal, serving Region 10 schools in Harwinton and Burlington.
Maynard is a native of St. Kitts, a popular vacation destination in the Caribbean. She acquired permanent residency status in the U.S. in 1993 through her father, a citizen of the U.S Virgin Islands, and emigrated to the U.S. with her son in 1998. Maynard relocated to Torrington in 1999, along with her mother and one sibling, and in 2004 she became a U.S. citizen.
She laughs when asked why she would leave an island paradise for the U.S., saying that people ask her that question again and again.
“I like the different temperatures throughout the year, and there are better job opportunities here,” she says.
One of her earliest recollections upon arriving in Connecticut was learning to drive on the right side of the road. In St. Kitts, vehicles travel on the left side of the road. She learned to drive the American way by practicing on East Main Street in Torrington, a multi-lane highway that climbs a steep hill and is lined with businesses and houses.
“It was intimidating,” she recalls.
Maynard’s first job in Torrington was working at a CVS pharmacy, adding that she had never thought of becoming a school bus driver. But she saw job ads for drivers in Torrington and decided to give it a shot. Now, she can’t imagine doing anything else.
“I’m going to drive until I can’t drive anymore,” she says. “The reason is because of the company I work for. I like the people in management and all the people I work with. Everyone is nice. Plus we get multiple breaks during the school year, which gives us time to regroup and take a breath from all the stress. It’s great.”
As to her success as a driver, she has a simple philosophy – everyone follows the rules.
BROOKFIELD – Working with children, their parents or caregivers is what’s expected of those who drive a school bus. Getting to know to know the families they transport and building relationships with them also comes naturally for All-Star Transportation employees.
So, it’s no surprise that when she’s not busy working as the manager at All-Star’s terminal in Brookfield that Debbie Jones volunteers at YoungLives of Danbury, a ministry for pregnant and parenting teenagers. The organization provides emotional support and services, such as life-skills education.
“It’s a great group, and they provide a lot of support,” Jones says. “A lot of these girls don’t get a lot of support at home.”
Jones first got involved with the organization when her then-15-year-old daughter, Brittany, was pregnant. One of Brittany’s friends had invited her to a YoungLives meeting.
“It was a place for her to go where she could talk to girls her own age in the same situation with peer bonding and mentors for support,” Jones says. “They also helped develop life skills and coping skills necessary for a teenage mom. It was a place where she was comfortable.
“YoungLives provides support in a teenage mom’s life when she is scared and very vulnerable,” she adds.
Now 21 and a driver for All-Star, Brittany has remained connected with the group. She’s a junior leader, making her a leader in training. She helps the group’s senior leaders build relationships with young mothers, and she tends to paperwork.
Four years ago, YoungLives asked Jones to get involved, and now she helps provide childcare while the young mothers hold meetings three times a month during the school year and twice a month during the summer. Currently, 15 teen moms are involved in the group, according to Allie Lasky, coordinator for the YoungLives Danbury region.
“Debbie plays a really important role,” Lasky says. “Without her, we would not be able to do what we do with the girls. Others also help from time to time, but she comes every time.”
“I enjoy the time with the babies, as well as helping other teenage moms,” Jones explains. “I can be there to support and encourage them. It is a way that I can give back for the support that they provided my daughter.”
In addition to childcare, Jones also volunteers her time to drive the young mothers to summer camp in upstate New York, something she has done for the past few years. This year, when the group lost its transportation, Jones took action. She reached out to Leslie Sheldon, All-Star’s operations manager, to inquire about renting a bus. Instead of billing the organization, Sheldon decided to donate a bus free of charge because Jones had already agreed to donate her time to drive.
So, this past Saturday, Jones made the four-hour round trip to and from the camp at Lake Champion in Glen Spey, NY. And she will make another trip later this summer. The camp is critical to the YoungLives program because it provides teen moms, their babies and their mentors with a few days of fun, allowing them to escape their daily routines and challenges.
“I’m always thanking her,” Lasky says of Jones. “Especially this year, when we found out we were losing our transportation. She took the initiative and also donated her time. It means a lot to us.”
WATERBURY – When Ed Costa says he spends most days putting out fires, he means that both figuratively and literally. As the manager of All-Star Transportation’s Waterbury location, it’s his job to resolve issues that erupt on a daily basis. And as the deputy fire chief for the Town of Wolcott, he’s frequently called upon to battle real-life fires.
“My background in emergency services helps me stay calm when there are challenging things going on,” says Costa, who manages a staff of more than 100 employees and deals with a daily challenges, such as changes to bus routes to provide door-to-door service for the special need students that Waterbury serves.
“We re-route buses every day. The constant change is routine,” he says.
Costa’s training in emergency services began during his senior year at Wolcott High School. He worked as a volunteer for an ambulance service, then took a course to become a certified emergency medical technician (EMT). After high school, he became a paramedic and worked 25 years for the City of New Britain. When he left that job in 2006, he was the city’s deputy chief for Emergency Medical Services.
“There are not a lot of people who have stayed in EMS that long and not bowed out,” he says. “I had enough of working weekends, nights and holidays.”
His next stop was at The Next Street, where he worked as an instructor for nine years before joining All-Star as the Waterbury location manager in October 2015. As a manager, he says one of his key concerns is keeping everyone safe. He says the training he received as a paramedic and the accidents he covered give him a deep appreciation for following procedures, and he’s a stickler about safety.
“I push safety and training every day. I understand the need for being safe after all the things I have seen over the years,” he says.
Costa’s focus on keeping people safe doesn’t end when he walks out of the door at night. After work he switches hats and takes up his responsibilities at Wolcott Volunteer Fire Department Company 1. He joined Company 1 in 1980, right after graduating from high school. He served as a volunteer firefighter, EMT and paramedic, becoming a lieutenant and captain before being named deputy chief in 2013. Costa and his wife of 32 years, Karen, have two sons, and both sons also are members of Company 1.
In April, Costa’s service to his community was recognized when he was named Wolcott’s Firefighter of the Year. He and other top firefighters from Connecticut will be celebrated in October when the Connecticut District Exchange Club hosts a special statewide dinner.
Costa notes that his achievements as a firefighter would not have been possible without the support of his family. He says they put up with him missing many family events to attend a fire or emergency, and he recalled leaving his family’s New Year’s Eve party earlier this year to respond to a major fire in Waterbury.
“Families are a big part of anyone involved in emergency services. It takes a commitment by an individual, but also by the family,” Costa says.
WATERBURY – Karen Vega and Jeremy Newman, two of All-Star’s long-time trainers from the Seymour terminal, have become state-certified trainers after completing a rigorous state program last week.
“They were recommended by our company, their manager and safety supervisor to apply for this position after several years as trainers for All-Star. It required them to both pass an extensive pre-qualification in June,” says Brenda Bass, All-Star’s safety supervisor.
As a DMV inspector and master instructor observed, they first had to perform a pre-trip as if they were teaching a new trainee. Once the pre-trip was completed they had to complete all the required procedures that a bus driver must do – a student pick-up/ drop-off and a live railroad crossing. They also went out on a road test again with a DMV inspector and master instructor on board. They had to drive defensively and follow all the rules of the road, while continually providing a verbal narration of what they were seeing and doing. There were 20 applicants from all over the state attempting to pass the pre-qualification exam, and only 15 from the group of 20 made it through.
Next, they had to attend a 40 hours of classroom training at DMV offices in Wethersfield. Each participant had to deliver three presentations to the class – a 5-minute presentation, a 10-minute one and a 15-minute final presentation. It was a grueling five days of classes that ended last Wednesday with a ceremony during which Vega, Newman and 70 others were awarded their new state instructor ID cards.
“We are very proud of them for achieving this distinction and look forward to many years of them training for All-Star,” Bass said.
WOLCOTT – Rachel Givens, a 2016 graduate of Wolcott High School, has received a Leslie R. Leeds Memorial Scholarship, one of just three scholarships awarded annually by the Connecticut School Transportation Association.
Givens will use the $1,000 scholarship to help finance her education at the University of Connecticut, Waterbury where she is majoring in Comprehensive Special Education. Givens is the daughter of Danielle and Roy Givens of Wolcott. Roy is a school bus driver in Wolcott for All-Star Transportation.
COSTA, the organization representing Connecticut school bus companies, established the scholarship program 20 years ago in memory of Leslie R. Leeds, who died in 1996 at age 23. Leeds was a Burlington native and the valedictorian of the Class of 1991 at Lewis S. Mills High School. Her mother, Robin, served as the executive director of COSTA from 1982-2004.
“Many students have benefited from this scholarship and we look forward to many more years of helping students fulfill their academic dream.,” said Donna Legault, association manager at COSTA.
The scholarship program is open to COSTA member employees and their dependents. Applicants must be enrolled in or accepted by an accredited institution of higher education, and applicants must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Along with the completed application, high school or college transcripts, essay, and two letters of recommendation are required.
The members of this year’s scholarship committee were: Lucille Ayotte from First Student; Cathy Heath from LEARN; and Ron Tymula from Student Transportation of America.