Onita Hare

Onita Hare drove a school bus for 53 years.

I have talked enough, so I will say no more;

I must now hurry home to practice on my snore.

Ashville’s Onita Hare is known for her little words of rhyme, but it is her many years of service as a school bus driver that she is best known for.

After driving a school bus for 53 years, starting in Aug. 1964, Hare has decided to retire.

The first bus she ever drove was a 1957 Ford.

“My husband, J.D. Hare, started working for the school system as a mechanic at the age of 17,” she said. “He worked there for 43 years. One day he told me to get behind the wheel of the school bus and drive. I asked why and he told me I was the new school bus driver.”

Hugh Williamson was Hare’s first transportation boss. Her route included Highway 23.

“I was told to stop at each house and blow the horn twice,” she said. “And I was also told to stop at each outhouse and blow the horn once. I think they were pulling my leg.”

When asked how many miles she has driven through the years, Hare said there is no telling. She also drove students to Eden Career Technical Center, on field trips and the Ashville band bus to away football games.

“My first route was 34.4 miles one way,” she said. “I had 104 students on the bus the first two years. They were standing in the aisle and down the steps where you get off. You couldn’t do that today.”

Back then, they allowed you to take your child with you while driving a bus. Hare had her 2-year-old son, Jay, and she would sit him on the heater.

“He gave me a Mother’s Day card this past year that said ‘Happy Mother’s Day to the original seatbelt,’” she said. “Every time I would slow down or stop, I’d take my arm and hold him in place.”

When talking about that first bus, a stick shift, Hare said she was lucky to even have brakes, which leads to another one of her funny sayings.

Round and round you go; where you stop nobody knows.

The old Ashville High School is where the Ashville Municipal Complex sits today.

“Mr. King was the principal at Ashville High when I started driving,” she said. “I made the kids behave when they were on my bus. The only child I ever carried in to the principal’s office was early in my career when I was 23 years old. The kid broke out one of the windows on the bus. Mr. King whipped him, and I felt bad that I had taken him to the principal’s office.”  

The next bus she drove was a 1966 model, and she got the only new bus that year.

For about six or seven years, she was the only school bus driver at Ashville.

“Judy Smith, who is Ashville High School principal Patti Johnson’s mother, started driving a school bus several years after I started,” she said. “We drove together for many, many years.”

In all of those 53 years, Hare had only one accident. She backed into a cherry picker one day.

“The kids kept telling me to come on back, come on back,” she said. “I have a lot of memories, and thank goodness, most of them are good. The most enjoyable days were driving the students to the vocational school.”

Hare said weather has always been the challenge of driving a school bus.

“One thing I remember the most was the morning I did not know what black ice was,” she said. “I was on St. Clair 31 going to turn right and, when I put on my brakes on, I didn’t slow down and continued to go straight. I was on black ice, and I came upon a school bus that was partly in a ditch and partly still in the roadway.”

Hare said the one thing she is going to miss the most is having a routine.

“I hope I can continue to maybe be a substitute driver,” she said. “Through the years, it has been a family affair with the Hares. Jay, my son, was the last student bus driver in the state of Alabama. He drove his senior year back in 1980. Today, his wife, Amy, is a school bus driver. Everyone I worked with through the years was just like family.”

Reach Gary Hanner at ghanner@thestclairtimes.com.