North Dakota bus driver steps down after nearly 6 decades on the job
May-Port CG bus driver Allan Kville helps his students, literally and figuratively, navigate their school days, just like he did for their grandparents.
PORTLAND, N.D. — He looks straight ahead through the haze of the early morning sky, country music coming out of the radio speaker loud enough to compete against the constant rattle of his school bus on the gravel road.
Two fifth grade boys sit behind him talking about the Minnesota Twins and Max Kepler while playing a baseball game on their phones. The next seat over, two first grade girls whisper secrets to each other as their feet, both in tiny Crocs, tap along to the music on the radio.
It’s just another day in the life of school bus driver Allan Kville — day 9,858 to be approximately exact. It’s been 60 years since Kville first sat behind the wheel of a school bus. But in just a day, he’s stepping off of it for good, retiring after a lifetime of serving the place he loves.
He calls himself “just a bus driver.” But to the people in his school community of May-Port CG, he’s so much more — someone who has literally watched as three generations have attended school, graduated and started lives of their own. Now, it’s their turn to celebrate the man who got them on the road.
Hitting the road
Before you get too far into Allan Kville’s story, it’s important to note he’s of 100% Norwegian descent, so being the center of attention is almost painful to him.
It’s something he clearly wasn’t seeking when he first took a part-time job driving a school bus in 1963. Only four years out of Portland High School himself, he was looking for a way to supplement his farm income. It worked. And so did he, logging hundreds of thousands of miles on his route which circles around the western edge of the May-Port CG district.
“The morning route is about 45 miles or so,” he says.
It leaves from his house where he parks the bus, then winds around the country roads picking up mostly elementary and middle school students, 25 of them on this May morning. An hour into the ride, the first few quiet moments of baseball chats and secret-sharing have given way to what Kville calls a “rambunctious” group stepping off the bus for school around 8:30 a.m.
Rambunctious as they are, Kville notes “they’re good kids,” and he says most even thank him for the ride.
Then he goes back home where he farms with his son, Brett. (Allan and Mary have two other children; Bonnie and Shane). Then it’s back to school by 3 p.m. to pick up the kids and take them back home. In all, about a 90-mile day.
Sometimes it’s a grind, but he’s never taken a sick day. He’s been there to pick up and drop off kids in hailstorms and heat waves and through North Dakota blizzards that wreaked havoc on everyone.
“Those are some of the most memorable times,” he says. “A storm this spring was so bad I stopped because I couldn't tell where I was. Everything was pure white.”
But it helps that Kville knows these roads like the back of his hand. While many would see endless corn and soybean fields, he spots tiny landmarks that let him navigate exactly where he’s going even in blinding snow. Experience has also given him the rural route common sense to know exactly when to pull over and let giant farm machinery pass.
Technical skills aside, what makes Kville special is the lives he’s touched in his nearly non-stop work as a bus driver. (While he started in 1963, he took about three years off in the ‘70s to work on his house. But he says the total is about 57 years on the job.)
“When you think about all of the students over the years he’s transported not just to school, but to games and tournaments, it’s just incredible,” May-Port CG Superintendent Michael Bradner says.
His smile has been the first to welcome kids to their school day for three, sometimes four, generations. Those first students he drove when Americans first stepped foot on the moon are now grandparents. Their children were on Kville’s bus when the World Trade Center towers fell and their children are his latest riders.
He says the students really haven’t changed that much. Styles have come and gone, but kids are kids. The boys who chatted about Max Kepler today might have been talking about Rod Carew back then, but not on any phone.
“That’s one of the biggest changes. The kids will get on the bus, and even the little ones, second graders will pull out their phones,” he says.
It’s also been fun for Kville to see the students change and grow from year to year.
Even this stoic Norwegian can swell up with emotion as he sees kids he first took on the bus as scared kindergartners walk across the stage in a graduation gown in what seems like a heartbeat later.
“I'm afraid I tend to be a little emotional. The throat fills up or the eyes water a little bit when the kids are talking about their plans for the future,” he says.
Some of his former students showed up for him at a recent celebration open house at the school.
Shirley Bohnsack was on Kville’s very first bus route in the fall of 1963. A scared sixth grader fresh from country school, she was the new kid. She found new friends, and Kville also made it better.
“Allan gave a lot of advice during the years, and I’d like to sit close to the front so I could visit with him on the way home,” she says.
Kville says it’s not easy saying goodbye, but it’s time. He says he might even shed a tear on his official last day driving. But he and Mary want to do more traveling, and his bus schedule made that difficult.
“My wife has been after me for several years. It's every fall. She’ll say 'Have you told Mike you’re quitting yet? Have you told Mike you’re quitting yet?'"
When he finally told the superintendent, it didn’t come as a big shock, but Bradner says it's a big loss.
“He's been a phenomenal employee. He’s always been so reliable. He’s just a great example to all employees and bus drivers in particular,” Bradner says.
Kville might have been reluctant to quit because of the sense of responsibility to his hometown, its school and its children. But as he’s seen year after year as the faces of his riders change and grow, so must his life evolve.
He’ll hand over the keys of the bus to another who will, like he did, navigate the kids through their school days (both literally and figuratively).
It’s his turn to travel away from the corn and soybean fields of May-Port CG to locations unknown with his wife. Maybe he’ll even get to kick back and relax in the passenger seat and let Mary drive.
She laughs at that thought.
“No way, he always drives!”
GALLERY: More from Allan Kville's last week on the job