“I did it for the kids,” said Tony Uselman after 41 years with Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools. He started as a custodian in 1980 and began driving bus routes about five years later.

Uselman closed out his time with the district with a bus driver of the year award from the Wadena VFW Post 3922. In his first year of retirement, he misses the students and remembers others from even 30 years ago. Transportation director Greg Kramer and bus drivers Kevin Tendall and Doug Jones also retired this year.

“Tony’s greatest strength has always been his calm demeanor and ability to connect with kids. Few drivers are as calm and relaxed as Tony,” said Tyler Church, middle/high school principal in a letter to the Wadena VFW. “He has always made it a priority to get to know the kids on his bus. His personal connections with his students have made those kids want to ride his school bus.”

One of the many cards and drawings Tony Uselman received over his 41 years at Wadena-Deer Creek.
Contributed / Marilynn Uselman
One of the many cards and drawings Tony Uselman received over his 41 years at Wadena-Deer Creek. Contributed / Marilynn Uselman

Tony drove a south route for 10 years and then the north route for the remainder of his time, which included special education, elementary and middle/high school students. Like any good leader, he was seen as “strict but fair,” as his wife Marilynn said—except on the last day of school when the kids had a water fight at the Snyder family home for many years. “The kids just had a riot,” as Tony described.

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“I’ve been blessed for a lot of years,” Tony said of his time working with the students and their families. “I knew it was time to get out of it when the babies had babies and then they were having babies.”

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He also understood the pressure and responsibility of driving and protecting the students. The ice, snow and late nights after sports activities were also challenging. He drove for softball, football, hockey and wrestling over the years.

“I worry about kids all the time,” Tony said.

Through it all he loved hearing stories from students and talking with past students in town who remember him.

“Many past and current bus riders on Tony’s bus have told me how great he is,” Church wrote. “Once a student has Tony as a bus driver they typically do not ever want a different one.”

Many of the heartwarming moments came with drawings and notes from students, including one girl and her friend who gave him a note every Friday that said, “Smile it’s Friday.”

“They’re all on the fridge, they always went up there,” Marilynn said about the drawings. “They really loved him.”

As a bus driver, Tony Uselman received lots of drawings from students that were like his own children. One student and her friend gave him one every Friday that said, "Smile, it's Friday." 
Contributed / Marilynn Uselman
As a bus driver, Tony Uselman received lots of drawings from students that were like his own children. One student and her friend gave him one every Friday that said, "Smile, it's Friday." Contributed / Marilynn Uselman