37 years on the road

Warren County pays fond farewell to retiring school bus driver

Cherry Nickens, of Front Royal, leans on her old bus No. 29 outside Warren County's School Bus Maintenance Facility on Criser Road in Front Royal. Nickens is retiring after 37 years if driving a school bus for the division. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Cherry Nickens was working in defense communications but wanted to spend more time with her children. She had four kids who went to Warren County Schools, so she took on a job as a bus driver for the school division.

That was in 1980. Now, 37 years later, Nickens is retiring.

Nickens said she kept working as a bus driver because of the time she got to spend with Warren County schoolchildren. But while she loved the children she transported, she rarely expressed it.

“If you show them how much you love them, they’ll sometimes give you a hard time,” she said.

So, she kept that love largely to herself, she said, but spoke out whenever a child picked on another.

In honor of Nickens’ retirement, the Warren County Schools set up a picnic at the offices of the Virginia Department of Transportation earlier this week. Three of the four directors of transportation Nickens worked under were there.

As part of the celebration, people at the Transportation Department moved the bus Nickens drives into the shop, said Aaron Mitchell, the current director of transportation.

According to Nickens, that bus was a favorite of Jim O’Rourke, a previous director of transportation who recently died.

The directors who were at the event–Mitchell, John Grubbs and Charles Eaton–all characterized Nickens as an easy driver to work with.

Mitchell recalled that he first began working as transportation director shortly before his birthday. His birthday came and went without anyone in the department knowing. But one day, Nickens and another driver invited Mitchell to a McDonalds. She gave Mitchell a cake and bought him breakfast.

“She was always personable and always thinking of other folks,” Mitchell said.

He described Nickens as a good driver. Over the years, Nickens said she drove three new buses.

“In the transportation world, you don’t give someone a new bus unless they’re a good driver,” Mitchell said.

Nickens did have an accident once. A truck drove past a stop sign and ran into the school bus.

“I held the steering wheel so tight that it messed up my shoulder,” Nickens said.

As a result of her effort, she said, the bus stayed upright.

Nickens’ 37-year stint is a long one within the bus driving world. Mitchell estimated that the average driver lasts about 10 years driving school buses. Many drivers, he said, work while they are taking classes, providing them with some income as they pursue a further education.

Nickens said she doesn’t have plans yet for what she’s going to do during retirement. She did note, however, that she will have her bus driver’s license until 2024.

“I’m hoping we can get her in the bullpen,” Mitchell said.