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The bus stops here: 833 transportation official Emily White to retire after 41 years

Emily White of Newport will retire from School District 833 in July after four decades. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

School District 833 has a lot riding on Emily White — namely, the welfare and safety of over 800 students with special needs.

As special education manager for the Transportation Department, White is responsible for ensuring that every student with a medical condition or physical disability has a safe and reliable ride to school. 

Some days, that requires her leaving the office, where a squawking two-way radio is her constant companion, getting into a school district vehicle and picking up a child herself.

A 41-year career that began behind the wheel of a school bus will end in July when White retires.

“I’m happy to be leaving, but when it comes time, it’s going to be gut-wrenching,” said White, of Newport.

Her duties for the district have included drug test coordinator, accident investigator and insurance carrier liaison. As a driver trainer and evaluator, she does a ride-along with each of the district’s 175 bus drivers every year. She seems to embody the best qualities of a good shepherd and a field marshal.

White, who drove a bus for 25 years, still pitches in on mornings when they’re one driver short.

“Two mornings in a row, when the phone rang at 5:23 a.m., I knew exactly who it was,” she said.

It won’t be easy leaving her young passengers, who range in age from 2 1/2 to 21.

“I just really enjoy working with them and watching them grow,” she said.

She’ll get no argument from Mike Vogel, assistant to the superintendent for operations.

“She’s very, very passionate about the work that she does,” Vogel said. “Emily has always held the safety of students as her first priority. She just has a natural affinity for kids. She is very kid-centric.”

That would seem to be prerequisite — if not a survival skill — for the cat-herding business of driving a school bus. It takes patience, a firm hand and empathy for the kids, White said.

“You’re the first person to see that child in the morning and the last thing they see when they get home,” she said.

If her life can be said to have a credo, it would be the one instilled by her lifelong commitment to the Girl Scouts: Do what needs to be done.

White became a Girl Scout at age 7 and has led the Girl Scout troop that is now called 51047 for 46 years.

One of her former scouts is Mary Foy, a Park High School graduate who now works at  Anchorage Parks and Recreation in Alaska. Foy aspires to be a teacher, a decision she made while working toward her Gold Award, the Girl Scouts’ highest honor.

Foy, 24, said she might have quit Girl Scouts when she reached high school were it not for White’s leadership.

“I think she was good at realizing what we would like to do but also trying to make it useful too,” Foy said. “She gave us a lot of free rein in what we wanted to do. But she also kept us on task.”

White hardly will be idle after she retires. She said she will volunteer at the Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park, where she previously served on the board. An avid horticulturist, she will also help plant community gardens with a group called  Newport on the Move. She said she also plans to volunteer at the North Star Museum of Boy Scouting and Girl Scouting in St. Paul, and at Newport Elementary School.

“I think since my husband passed away, that’s what’s kept me going,” she said.

A former member of Newport City Council, she has also volunteered during Pioneer Day, the Newport Firefighters Booya, National Night Out, Wakota CAER, Oktoberfest and the Holiday Train Committee, where she’s in charge of organizing the volunteers.

Mary Slusser is one of the founding members of the Holiday Train Committee. She knows she can count on White to do her part.

“If you ask her, ‘Emily, can you help out with this fundraiser?’ she’ll say, ‘What are the days and what are the times?’ She’s just a phenomenal woman,” Slusser said. “She’s a role model for all of us in the community.”