After years running his family farm in southern Door County, Ted Chaudoir and his wife started a new job: driving school buses for the Southern Door County School District.
“It was a matter of either getting bigger on the farm or getting smaller to go off-farm for outside income and benefits, and we decided to get smaller and incorporate bus driving with our farm schedule,” Chaudoir said. “”We did that for three or four years, but then I was able to get full-time employment through the district.”
The job came with a surprise: driving a bus brought real joy.
“I never would have thought that this was a job I could really love, but working with kids is pretty special,” Chaudoir said. “They treat you like a grandparent.”
There was another surprise, too: the children on Chaudoir’s bus had very little to do.
“It takes about an hour for me, from the time my first students are on until I’m able to let them off for school in the morning,” Chaudoir said. “Four-year-old kindergartners did not have any books in their backpack. They had folders with papers, and if I saw a child getting restless, and I asked him to bring out a book, they were telling me they didn’t have books.”
Ted set out to fix that, first by bringing books from home.
“When our daughter moved out on her own when she was 23, my wife wanted to make her bedroom into a quilting shop, and what to do with all the books we’d accumulated over the years for our daughter?” Chaudoir wondered. “I brought them on the bus, thinking maybe they would like to have the books.”
It worked. Not only did the students calm down and read the books, they soon began asking for more books. Chaudoir approached Missy Bousley, the school’s reading specialist, to ask about the possibility of finding more books.
“I say ‘Absolutely, I can absolutely make it happen.’ Bousley said. “I went around to thrift stores at first and bought books at half price, and I asked if the people would be willing to donate books and started him out with $30 of books from the thrift store.”
Bousley also asked members of the community to donate books, which they did by the dozen. Soon, other district buses carried books too. Ted and the district organized the book collections into a program called “Books on the Bus.”
“I would say we have probably 1,500, 1,600 books right now available to us,” Chaudoir said.
As the program has grown, it has been recognized with awards from statewide education organizations, including WEA Trust.
“It’s like a gift we’ve been given,” Chaudoir said. “We really feel that, because of how people feel about it, we have to do it as well as we can.”