The Bear Creek school bus route in rural Wallowa will have to get along without bus driver Sharlet Doud for the first time since the fall of 1971.
The great-grandmother wasn't really ready to retire - even though she will be 82 on her birthday in November - but decided it was time. The fact she would have to take her annual test on a computer this year was at least partially responsible for the decision.
Last Thursday she rode the route with her successor, Carrie Hermann, with mixed emotions.
"I should be crying," she said about leaving her long-time job behind, even though she may still be called on to substitute occasionally. "I can hardly think about it. It's been part of my life so long."
"She's the best you can get," said her employer, Ken Moffit of Moffit Bros. Transportation, about Doud as a bus driver. "She has a perfect driving record and I think years would go by without her ever missing a day."
Doud said that though there had probably been a few others during her tenure, she could specifically remember only one day she took off, when out-of-town relatives she hadn't seen for years were visiting.
Moffit pointed to Bus No.14, the 1974 Ford model Doud drove the past three decades. "Look. Not a scratch. It looks just like new."
"Well, if he wants to brag on me, I'd like to brag on my bosses. They have been wonderful. They are just like my family." Doud said.
The Bear Creek/Diamond Road bus route of approximately 20 miles was Doud's throughout her driving career. At one time No. 14 was completely full with 48 students aboard, but a declining enrollment in the school is reflected in the present number of riders, approximately 15.
"I liked my kids. I told the new driver she had the best-behaved kids. ... I don't think there are any better anywhere," Doud said. She marveled at the passing of the years. "I hauled the moms and dads of some of the ones that ride now.
Doud is a native of Wallowa County, born to Oliver and Minnie Weaver Barnes in Paradise in 1923. The Weaver branch of her family traveled across the country by wagon train, arriving in Wallowa County about 1880.
She graduated from 8th grade with a 90 percent on the test all eighth graders were required to take at that time. She had intended to attend high school in Enterprise, staying with a family there, but homesickness and very mild hazing (she remembers having to wear a green ribbon in her hair as a freshman) soon drove her home. "I still get homesick for Paradise," she admits.
The future bus driver was married to the late Lester Doud in 1943, and the couple first lived in Wallowa before living for a total of about five years in Klamath Falls, Prineville and California, before moving home to Wallowa County for good.
Doud has six children, including daughters Janice Bennett and Jolayna Lewis, who live in Wallowa, and Twyla Carper of Milton-Freewater, and sons Willard of La Grande, Stanley of Portland and Dean Doud of Pendleton, as well as 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
She stayed home raising children for many years, but her background includes work that involves driving before she ever set foot in a school bus. She delivered both the Oregonian and Observer newspapers for about 10 years, and prior to that the Walla Walla Bulletin for a number of years. After going to work for Moffit Bros., she also drove the senior citizen bus for Community Connections for a few years until that job was taken over by volunteers.
While most of her career has been fairly uneventful, Doud remembers a little girl with asthma passing out on the bus during her first year. "I didn't know what to do," she remembers, noting that she had no idea the student suffered from asthma. Luckily, the emergency was short-lived and the girl recovered from the incident. In more recent years, Doud - like all bus drivers - was trained in first aid and CPR, and students' medical conditions are likely to be known ahead of time.
Doud said she always got a kick out of the things kids would tell her, such as one little girl who informed here that a sore arm was all better after a trip to the doctor. "He cut it open and put in an animal bone, and it's alright now," the girl said matter of factly.
Though Doud admits that she is older than most bus drivers, she has been re-tested every year with a physical driving test that the younger drivers don't have to take, "with the tester sitting behind you and making you nervous."
She said that Roberta Moffit went to bat for her last year when the state Department of Education told Moffit Bros. that no one over 80 could drive a school bus. It turned out that rule was not on the books anywhere, and Doud continued to drive.
However, with the written part of the test now computerized, Doud said she reluctantly made the decision to call it quits.
She enjoys working in her yard, family history research and spending time with her family, but knows that she will miss the children and bus driving routine which has been an integral part of her life for 34 years.