BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — With a smile and a fist bump, Harold Smith says “Good Morning” to the 90 students who board Bus 23 each weekday. “I love the kids,” said Smith, aka Mr. Smitty, who last week was honored by the Anthony Wayne Board of Education as Staff Member of the Year. “I’ve heard many positive stories from parents and students on his bus,” said Superintendent Dr. Jim Fritz. One parent told of Smith sharing a book with their son – a Lial student who rode his bus last year – when the boy spoke of his interest in war history “Quinn asked me if I was in a war, and I told him I was in Vietnam, but that it would be easier to show him a book about the F-4 Phantom,” Smith said. “I refueled fighter jets and cargo planes.” After graduating from Rogers High School, Smith joined the Air Force in 1969, serving as a staff sergeant stationed in Turkey, where he was in charge of fueling fighter jets flying over Vietnam. When he returned to Toledo, he worked at Lo-Temp Brazing on South Avenue for two years until passing the civil service exam. That launched a 35-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, and an opportunity to meet his wife of 33 years Whitehouse-area native Cindy Wagner. He retired on Halloween Day 2009, but by January 2010, Smith was hired as a bus driver for Anthony Wayne Local Schools. His bus routes have included Bus 26, which serves Neapolis, and Bus 23, which covers what Smith calls the “inner city of Whitehouse,” including Lone Oak Crossing, Birch Pointe, Oak Pointe and Whitehouse Valley. Wearing a Generals or OSU ball cap, Smith makes it a point to greet each child by name, ask questions and share words of encouragement. In response, he gets plenty of input. “Art Linkletter said it best: Kids say the darnedest things,” he laughed. One morning, he consoled a crying young girl who was sad that her mother was going away for the week. Another youngster brings him a Vernors ginger ale and a bag of chips occasionally, after asking him about his favorite foods. “Kids still come to my bus just to say hi,” he said of his students from Bus 26. “They remember me and ask me how I’m doing.” Driving a bus can have its challenges, such as students who want to stand up during the trip or stir up trouble. But Smith says he lays down the law at the beginning of the school year. “I tell them, ‘I can be your best friend or your worst nightmare,” he said. “I treat them with the same respect and dignity that I expect. Usually they just want attention.” While Smith is recognized for his attitude and hard work, he said several members of the Transportation Department are deserving of the award. “Every one of the drivers and aides is phenomenal,” he said, adding that he would specifically nominate Julie Watson, who was an aide on his bus last year. “She was such a joy to have on the bus. She was so great with the kids,” he said.
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