MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Mahopac school bus driver Marion Tucker can tell you lots of stories about her boss, transportation supervisor Frank Gunn, but there is one in particular that sticks out.
“There had been a fire and they had to close the road, so the school bus couldn’t get through,” Tucker recalled. “There was a little girl on the bus who lived on the street. So, Frank took her by the hand and walked with her down the street and brought her right to the mother. That’s who Frank was.”
Now, after nearly 35 years working for the Mahopac Central School District, Gunn is hanging up his clipboard. He will officially retire Friday, April 21, and his co-workers and staff are already comtemplating life at the bus garage on Myrtle Avenue without him.
“Frank comes in at two in the morning when the weather’s bad,” said Tucker, who worked with Gunn for 18 years. “Mahopac has no idea what they are losing.”
Gunn is a Mahopac native and graduated from MHS in 1980.
“I bleed blue and gold,” he said. “There are not a lot of people who can still say that.”
He started working for the district two years later as a fill-in driver and a night cleaner. Later, he took a job as parking lot attendant at the high school, working in the guard booth.
Bus driver/trainer Steve Troost, who has worked with Gunn for more than two decades in the transportation department, was going to the high school at the time.
“I remember Frank when he was working in the guard booth. I used to see him there on my way to school in the morning.” Troost said with a laugh. “Little did I know at the time that I would be working with him for such a long time.”
Gunn became head bus driver in 1986. When his boss and mentor, Edward Harkins passed away in 2009, Gunn was promoted to the transportation supervisor position, which he’s held until his retirement this week.
The job is one of those unheralded positions, a behind-the-scenes responsibility that no one thinks about, but is crucial to the district’s day-to-day operation.
“I schedule the buses for 4,700 [students], including 57 private and parochial schools—which is something most don’t know about,” Gunn said. “The first bus leaves at 6:05 a.m. and that last one comes back at 6:30 p.m.”
Gunn’s staff says that he keeps the department working like a well-oiled machine, but he is always thinking of other people first, which explains the reason why he is retiring now rather than waiting for the end of the school.
“Doing it in April, that makes [the transition] smoother,” he said. “We are doing it in a quieter time of the year. In the summer, the summer runs would be underway and [the new supervisor] wouldn’t have time to get to know the staff because a lot would [be on vacation] and we would be busy getting ready for the September opening.”
Gunn said the decision to retire and say goodbye to his “second family”—those interviewed for this article called the transportation department a family-like atmosphere—was a bittersweet decision, but he knew it was time.
“I’m 55, have been working 15-hour days for a long time and felt it was time to spend more time with the family, which had been on the back burner,” he said. “I love the job because of the kids. They are who I will miss the most, especially the special ed kids. You like to think you make a difference in a kid’s life—and I think I did. That’s what I’ll miss.”
Gunn has been married to his wife Christine for 31 years and has two grown daughters. He said he hopes to do some traveling now that he will have the free time.
Troost said the biggest fear of losing Gunn is the fear of the unknown: how will Gunn’s replacement run the department.
“Frank always looked out for us,” he said. “I remember a few years ago when I was having [medical issues], he took me aside and said, ‘take all the time you need. Your health comes first.’”
But Gunn reciprocates and says he couldn’t have done his job without the support of his staff. He cites his transportation operations assistant and dispatcher Patrice Helly as one who was “indispensable.”
Helly has been with the district for 17 years, all of them working with Gunn.
“It will be different when he’s gone,” she said. “He’s always been here.”
Helly said that Gunn was always first to lend a hand, and not necessarily to those in the transportation department.
“Sometimes the kindergartners are scared of the bus; they don’t want to get on,” she said. “Frank would go to the bus stop and talk to them.”
Gunn said making the transportation department run like a well-oiled machine extended well beyond the people who were in his charge.
“I wasn’t the one who made it look easy; it was a team effort by everyone who worked for the school,” he said. “The teachers, the principals, even the parents, all played a role. The School Board, too. They were always supportive and got us the best equipment.”
Gunn said he’s also proud of his mechanics team, led by chief mechanic Bill Siclari.
“Part of our job is to oversee the maintenance of the buses and we have a 93 percent score,” he said. “The state has a book of regulations that’s 2 inches thick. The DOT wants you to finish with a score of at least 90 percent. One bad light bulb and they can fail a bus.”
During his time with the transportation department, Gunn said there have been some challenging times, which have made the job a little more exciting than most would prefer.
“In 1995, there was an ice storm that closed the school for five days,” he said. “We just kept salting and sanding and breaking ice. There were numerous roads closed—many were impassable. It was crazy.”
He also points to hurricanes Irene and Sandy as some of the most exigent events during his tenure as supervisor.
“When we had those, there were massive power outages at the high school and middle schools and Falls school,” he said. “The transformer blew up. We were closed for a few days.”
More recently, a police pursuit that started as a car chase and turned into a foot chase threw a monkey wrench into the first-day-of-school proceedings. But Gunn is proud of how his department, and the district as a whole, responded.
“It was about three years ago,” he said. “It started on Charles Place and then he crashed on Myrtle Avenue and he took off on foot. They ended up catching him by the sand pile. We had to lock down the schools and reroute all the buses on the first day of school. It was challenging, but it also showed that all the [contingency] plans we had in place would work. Everything worked perfectly.”
But his proudest accomplishment as transportation supervisor is his safety record.
“I never had a major instance where a child got hurt,” he said. “Oh, we had a few fender benders, but nobody ever got seriously injured. I’m proud of that.”