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Prudy Baker still rolling after 37 years

School bus driver Prudy Baker began her 37th school year on Tuesday, ferrying students from Lancaster to school and home again. Jeff Woodburn. (click for larger version)
September 08, 2010
Everything seems so new on the first day of school. It is, after all, an institution that loves change whether it is staff, curriculum or initiatives. For a few dozen students in a neighborhood just north of Lancaster (near the fairground and Page Hill), there is one thing they can be sure of, and that's, Prudy Baker. Yesterday, she began her 37th school year behind the wheel of a school bus. Despite having a knee replacement this year, she keeps driving because she enjoys it. "It keeps me young," she said.

Mrs. Baker has seen lots of changes over the years, but she's rolls with the flow. She's remembers when marbles and paper dolls were popular, when all school buses were standard-shift and when there was no paper work to speak of. "I'm not saying that's bad, that's just today's world," she said of the changes. Despite it all, Mrs. Baker said, "Kids are still good, respectful. That's one of the reasons why I enjoy my job so much."

Her route has remained unchanged since 1974 and this has allowed her to watch not only kindergarteners grow into high school students, but also to parents and grandparents. "Some of the students that I'm picking up now," she said, "I picked up their parents" years before.

After twenty-two years of driving athletes to far-away games, Mrs. Baker no longer makes those trips. She said both she and her husband, Wally Baker, remain "very attached to the athletics." It was those trips that took her all over the state, first very reluctantly, as she didn't like going deep into the more populated and congested southern part of the state. "With no exaggeration," she said, "I've seen more of the state of New Hampshire in that school bus than my own car."

Her biggest scare, though, came close to home. One night, she got stuck in a "horrible snow storm" in Franconia Notch. One of the chaperones told her, "you got one thing on your side; there's no traffic behind you." They later found out that the state closed the notch and they were the last vehicle that was allowed through. "That was a little scary feeling, but we made it," she said.

Mrs. Baker's most memorable bus ride was coming home from Durham after the WMRHS boys' basketball team won the state championship in 1983. The bus was experiencing problems the whole trip, but as it reached the south side of Corrigan Hill, it started to "smoke terribly," she said. Mrs. Baker looked over at Coach Dan Chick and said, "I don't think we're going to make it." With his head down, he said, "Just keep driving, Prudy" and hoped for the best.

At 1:30 a.m., they made it up Corrigan Hill and where they were greeted by an escort of vehicles full of excited fans, who had been waiting for them. "I remember at the bottom of the hill," she said, "I looked back and I could see traffic bumper-to-bumper as far as the eye could see. "Oh what I trip that was. So much excitement and noise."

(The complete text of Jeff's interview with Prudy Baker is available at www.whitemtnews.com)

Garnett Hill
Garnett Hill
Salmon Press
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