Merlie Allen a role model for bus drivers

Published 9:48 am Thursday, November 1, 2018

For 40 years, Merlie Allen has been getting up before the sun.

After going outside, she cranks up the big, yellow school bus and starts a route, picking up children and taking them to school.

The routine starts again every afternoon.

Amanda Sanders wasn’t going to let this year’s “School Bus Driver Appreciation Week” go by without recognizing her “idol.”

Johnson and Allen both drive buses for North Davie Middle School. When Sanders was a student, Allen was her bus driver. She loved her so much she had her mother bake the bus driver a cake.

Last week, she re-created the scene, and surprised Allen with a cake, posing outside the door of the bus just as they had done many years ago.

Allen, thinking there was a bus driver’s meeting, was surprised to see a newspaper reporter and photographer, school officials and Sanders with the cake. “Amanda, you’re going to make me cry,” she said.

Imagine everything Merlie Allen has seen driving a bus twice a day for 40 years. “A lot of kids, a lot of changes – and not all of them for the better,” she said.

Allen remembers when Sanders, then Amanda Johnson, boarded her bus. Amanda’s mom would rush her out of the house, and she would run to the bus. Allen told her to slow down and walk, there’s no need to risk an injury.

One day, Johnson was so late that she ran out of the house with her shoes in her hand. She got to the bus with feet covered with two wet socks. Allen had her to take them off. She put the socks on the heater and they were dry and warm by the time they got to school.

Sanders remembers begging Allen to let her stay on the bus on her first day at North Davie Middle, she was so scared.

“I’ve met a lot of different kids and I love them all,” Allen said. “If I didn’t love the kids, I wouldn’t do it.”

She remembers most of the students who rode her bus, including Jeremy Miller, who as transportation director for Davie County Schools, is now her boss.

The days start early for Allen. She gets out of bed at 4:45 a.m., and is picking up her first student before 6.

Sanders has a similar schedule. “Now, I’m just like my role model,” she said.

Allen takes the changes in stride. The buses are safer now, and there are cameras and instant communication with the school and bus garage. She’s always allowed her students to talk – within reason – but now it’s more difficult to discipline an unruly student, she said.

She used to provide Kool Aid and cupcakes for her riders. Nowadays, any gift must be pre-packaged. “You can’t do anything with the kids now,” she said.

“You were not just a bus driver,” Sanders said. “You’re a guidance counselor, a momma and a nurse. We appreciate all of the bus drivers, but we really appreciate Merlie, who is so special.”

Even after 40 years, her enthusiasm and love for her students is still there. She has no plans of retiring, until “God tells me it’s time to stop.”