In 50-year career on U.P. backroads, bus driver remembers close call and a life of service

EAST LANSING – On Jan. 4, 2004, lifelong school bus driver Bob Hanchek made a stop on his afternoon route along U.S. 41 in the North Central Area Schools district in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula.

With red lights flashing and two of his 15 riders coming up the aisle to exit, Hanchek recognized a big and fast moving railroad repair truck was not stopping behind him.

“I grabbed those boys out of the stairwell, shut the door, and threw the bus in gear,” Hanchek recalled. “It was a standard shift — a stick — and I moved the bus onto the shoulder. Faster than you can snap your fingers, the truck driver went sliding 50 feet behind the bus. He woke up — he was daydreaming — and slammed on the brakes, and he slid right by me.

“I’ll never forget that day,” Hanchek added.

For his life saving actions, Hanchek was honored with the Michigan Hero of the Year by the American Legion, and later the 2022 Leon A. Brunner Award, MEA’s top honor for education support professionals.

Hanchek began driving a bus in 1972 at age 19 and retires this year at age 69. Throughout his career, Hanchek has been a strong advocate for bus drivers and other support staff who help ensure student success every day. More than 20 years ago, he became president of his local support staff union, eventually joining the MEA and MESSA boards of directors and becoming a delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly.

Most recently, Hanchek fought against school budget slashing that cut health care and retirement benefits, which has led to widespread shortages of bus drivers and consolidation of routes.

“Who wants that responsibility with no benefits and some buses trying to run two routes and fit it all in?” he asked. “I have your children on that bus.”

“Bob Hanchek’s story reflects his commitment to the safety of the children on his bus, his promise to their families and his love for the community,” said MEA President Paula Herbart. “Bob and all teachers and school support staff share values of service, safety and hard work, often starting their day before the sun rises. Bob is one of countless teachers and support staff in public schools in every corner of Michigan and on both peninsulas who go above and beyond every day in service to our students.”

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