Cork turning in his bus keys

by Sara Hacking, Staff Writer Bus driver Larry "Cork" Anderson, 70, counts himself one lucky man for his 50-year career driving Verndale school buses. Anderson began his career with the toss of a coin in 1956. He and a local farmer were both well...

by Sara Hacking,

Staff Writer

Bus driver Larry "Cork" Anderson, 70, counts himself one lucky man for his 50-year career driving Verndale school buses.

Anderson began his career with the toss of a coin in 1956. He and a local farmer were both well known in the community and good candidates for the bus driver position.

"They flipped a coin about who got the job," Anderson said about how the school board made the difficult decision.


Anderson won the flip and the job, and the school handed him the keys to a straight-stick, 42-passenger school bus. He got behind the wheel and started driving routes for two generations of Verndale school children.

When asked what about his personality has enabled him to drive a bus load of schoolchildren for half a century Anderson replied, "I've always been happy-go-lucky."

Anderson's easygoing nature helped him to have an uncommonly lengthy career. Now he is fast approaching retirement and will park his bus for the last time June 1.

As his working days draw to an end, Anderson has a lot to make him thankful. His good fortune extends beyond the fateful coin toss 51 years ago. He's had a job he loves, 50 years of marriage to his high school sweetheart, a colorful nickname and a lifetime in his beloved Verndale.

Anderson has moved only once during his seven decades. He was born in one home in Verndale and moved into his current home one block from the school after he married Ruth on July 6, 1957.

"I wouldn't be anyplace else," he said about living in Verndale. "People are friendly. I go up town to coffee and you know everybody."

Anderson learned how much he loved his hometown during a brief stint at college. He spent two quarters at the University of Minnesota. The big classes didn't suit the small town boy, however.

He returned to Verndale and soon started his bus driving career. His father, Andy Anderson, gave him a job at his store. But he couldn't pay him enough, Anderson said.


There was hardly any work available in town.

"It was just lucky that a job opened up," he said.

Anderson hit the road in the school bus with a starting salary of $150 a month. He kept on working with his family at Andy's Cash Store and then Andy's Oil Company.

The bus route was what he really enjoyed, though. He likes the kids, he said.

Verndale Superintendent Jim Madsen said he's never had to deal with a discipline problem on Anderson's bus.

"I think there's very good respect that goes both ways," Madsen said.

Anderson said discipline hasn't really been an issue over the years other than a few fights, students standing in the aisles and kids picking on each other.

"Kids are pretty good if you treat them right," he said.


Anderson's five-decade career is almost unheard of, Madsen said.

"People used to have 40-year careers with one company but 50 is ... a milestone that is rarely achieved," Madsen said.

Anderson's bus driving career did take a detour 16 years ago when he briefly retired. He had driven the regular 30 to 40 mile route for the district for 35 years at that time. When he returned to work, he exchanged his regular route for substitute driving. Now he gives special education kids a car ride in the morning and drives the bus in the afternoon for sports activities.

He thought about retiring for good at the first of this year, but the weather was so nice at the time he decided to keep going until spring, he said.

He hasn't had any real accidents over the years, he said. But he has gotten stuck in a few snowstorms.

"I've seen some awful terrible winters over the years," Anderson said. "I've seen drifts eight-foot high. I've seen floods, especially that north part. I've really seen some bad road conditions."

Winters now aren't like they used to be, he said.

"That's why I kept driving," he said. "Otherwise, I think I would have quit a long time ago."


Anderson said he isn't quite sure what he will do to occupy himself during his retirement, however.

"I'm really going to miss it," he said about driving bus.

Anderson's grey sweatshirt embroidered with the words "bus driver" and a school bus full of children give evidence to what his job has meant to him.

"It's been my life," he said. "When you've been here [this] long it's gotta hit you."

Although Anderson won't be making the wheels on the big yellow school bus go round and round anymore, he still has good health and plenty of hobbies and civic involvement to keep him busy.

He owns a cabin on Big Pine Lake and likes to hunt and fish. Anderson belongs to the Verndale Lions and the Elks in Wadena. He is also a member of the United Methodist Church in Verndale.

Anderson enjoys living in a town where everybody knows his name, he said. He thinks that his nickname "Cork" adds to his personality.

He got his distinctive moniker when he was a baby.


"My brother named me out of the funny papers," he said referring to the character of Corky from the Gasoline Alley comic strip.

"He must have thought it was cute," Anderson said.

Otherwise he doesn't really know what inspired the name.

"I've never gotten anybody to tell me why," he said. "But for sticking with me, I'll tell you it sure did."

Being called "Cork" helps people to remember him, he said.

Anderson's good nature and dedication to his job also play a role in securing him in Verndale's collective memory.

Students aren't likely to forget Anderson's friendly greetings or his face reflected in the long mirror above the driver's seat. For many Verndale kindergartners, Anderson seated at the top of the stairs was the first sight they saw after entering the boarding doors for the first ride to school. And it was a sight that continued to greet them throughout their school years.

"I was lucky," Anderson said. "I've stuck with it and I like the kids."


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