Submitted by Christine Whelan
Oct 14th, 2021, VOL. 3 ISSUE 4
Cheryl Woodcox: The Bus Driver Who Has Lived Her Dream
Cheryl Woodcox, after driving the Fort Erie Transit for 38 years, is retiring on October 15th, when the Fort Erie Transit System makes its final transition to On-Demand.
Marty LeDuc remembers back to his first days with the Transit when he became a co-worker of Cheryl’s. “I started with Dunn the Mover 21 years ago. Then in 2012, when TOK took over the contract, Cheryl became our unofficial supervisor. Eventually, a few years ago, an email was sent out to all the drivers that she was the official supervisor.”
He reminisced about those years, sharing little anecdotes of working with her. With a laugh, “Cheryl has an off-the-wall sense of humour. When we drove for Dunn the Mover, she would pull the craziest stuff.”
As far as Cheryl’s commitment to her job as a supervisor, Marty took on a more serious tone. “If someone had to call in sick, we would call her to try and find someone else to come in. I’ve seen her take that shift, causing her to work 13 hours. She knows what it’s about. The Transit’s gotta run. It’s gotta keep going.”
LeDuc remarked about the person Cheryl is when she is not being a supervisor. “On her off days, she is always doing for others, taking people for rides, taking them shopping. She’s always on the go. I found this out recently. Cheryl and her husband would take in stray animals, like wild animals. For instance, they raised baby raccoons of a mother that was killed. They took them in, raised them, then let them go back into the wild.”
When asked at what point he and Cheryl became more than just co-workers, more like friends, Marty replied, “When Cheryl’s husband, Vince, became sick and she needed to spend a lot of time with him, I took over the control of the buses so that the drivers would call me instead of calling her,” which was a big part of her supervisor’s role, “I had them call me so Cheryl could take care of her husband.”
Danielle Charest, another driver for the Fort Erie Transit system, shared some stories about her co-worker. “I worked with Cheryl for six years. When I came on, there were only two buses running.”
We talked about how, although she has worked with Cheryl and the others in the transit team, they don’t see each other that much. The hourly, 10-minute stop at the hub in the last several years has been their proverbial “standing around the water cooler conversation and catch up”. It’s the passengers they, as drivers have more interaction with. They hear each other’s stories and daily events.
Danielle talked about the camping trips some of the drivers would go on, to be together off-work hours. During a camping trip, a couple of years ago, “There’s a game called Ladder Ball but Cheryl calls it Monkey Ball. We’d all play. She kicked all our butts. She’s amazing at that game, absolutely amazing.” They also enjoyed playing Wii Bowling. “That was really fun.”
As a co-worker, Danielle remarked, there are two sides to Cheryl. She’s very committed to her job, but as Marty admitted earlier, “She’s also pretty funny. She has a good sense of humour.”
Danielle talked about the days when she and Cheryl got closer, off the bus route. It was an extremely difficult, extremely emotional time. Cheryl’s beloved Vince was diagnosed with cancer. “I’ve been there for her since her husband was sick. I would text with her in the middle of the night, all night sometimes because she was up and everyone else was asleep. She knew I’d be up and so she would text me.”
When they were together during those days, Danielle admitted, “There were times I had to wait until after I walked away to let the tears come. I wanted to be strong for her. “
Danielle remembered Cheryl’s husband, “He was amazing. He was a fantastic man. The first time I went camping with them, the first time I hung out with him, I literally fell in love with this man. So humble, and such a wonderful person. And she was so proud of him. It was such a loss.”
Cheryl, who started her bus driving career in 1982, first driving a school bus, then the Fort Erie Transit, has been thinking a lot about the last 38 years. “When it comes time for my last day, it’s going to be very bittersweet.”
She confessed, “I’ve wanted to be a bus driver since I was five years old. I’ve lived my childhood dream every day.”
When asked how it got to be a dream to drive a bus at five years old, Cheryl replied simply, “It was because of the bus drivers that I had over the years. They were such nice drivers.”
Thinking back fondly, “I remember, one year at Christmas time, one driver giving me a Santa Claus face sucker. Now, back in those days, it was such a big thing because I was just a little kid, but I thought that was so nice that the bus driver thought that much of me to give me a sucker. And I’ve never forgotten.”
Years later, “My husband’s aunt told me that they were needing bus drivers at Dunn the Mover. It wasn’t long after we were married. I looked into it. I learned to drive a bus, took a test, went through the medical.” The rest is history.
Cheryl lost Vince on May 9th of this year to cancer. Two weeks prior, the soulmates renewed their vows.
We talked about the heartbreaking days not too long ago. “I can’t thank my drivers enough, and also the passengers, for the compassion and the moral support that they gave during that time. I knew that they would do anything they could to help me out, if I needed anything, they were there.”
She did have a story to tell about Vince that made us both smile. “When he was going for his chemo treatments to the Walker Cancer Clinic in St. Catharines, he had to go in alone because of the pandemic restrictions. I couldn’t go in. He had on a jacket from Dunn the Movers with a picture of a school bus and his name on it.” She explained she had previously ordered the jackets and got her husband one. Vince worked for Rich Products as a Millwright.
“One of the nurses asked him if he was a bus driver. He said, no, my wife is a school bus driver and she also drives for the Fort Erie Transit. As soon as he said the words Fort Erie Transit, the nurse said, your wife isn’t Cheryl, is it? When he said, yes, the nurse said, oh I know Cheryl. I used to ride the bus with my two kids. She took very good care of me, getting me safely to Walmart, making sure I knew what time to get back on the bus.”
“I’ve met so many nice people over the years. They became like family, people that we’ve had on the bus on a regular basis. And if they weren’t on, we’ve always worried about them.”
Cheryl shared a story. “There was a gentleman I took to his own barbershop on Gilmore Road on Saturdays. I got to know him over the years, just from taking him to work every Saturday and bringing him back home. At one point, he became very sick. His wife came on the bus to tell me he was in the hospital. So, I went to visit him. He was so excited I took the time to go see him. He passed away a couple of days later.”
Craig Sabourin, in palliative care, at the Niagara Health Douglas Memorial Site in 2018, she remembered, had one last wish — to take a ride on the Fort Erie Transit one last time. Cheryl remembered, “I took him for that ride. He and his sister. He was just so thrilled to be able to take that ride.”
The memories continued to roll out. “A couple of my favourite people — they would come every year, up until COVID, from England — to visit their son and daughter-in-law who live in Crescent Park. I had explained to them how I wanted to be a bus driver since I was five. I also explained to them how I’ve collected little buses over the years. They went home to England and sent back to me, double-decker buses, collectibles, like keychains.”
Cheryl told me wonderful stories of how she came to obtain some of her collections. Many are little buses as gifts from those who rode her bus. “I also have the Transit schedule from 2003 and an old Transit sign that ran across, overhead. I’ve taken my collection very seriously.”
“I gave myself that title ‘Shrink on Wheels’ because it seemed to be a part of my job. It could be anything and everything. You’d never know what the conversation was going to be about.
Woodcox shared stories about the infamous weather conditions of Fort Erie and driving a bus through it all. “And then, over the years, the number of snowstorms we had. We had to get people to work. We had to get people home. Even after the school buses were shut down, we tried to keep the Transit buses going until the roads just got too bad to drive.”
Cheryl described the morning there was so much snow with ice hiding underneath that when she tried to take the hill going down Queen Street, she lost control, no matter how hard she tried and took out a pole. “We closed down the Transit system for that day after that.”
“I’m going to miss my co-workers. They are like family. I worked with Nick the longest. He was my partner back when TOK took over the contract. He and I would work two days on, two days off. We’d work the whole day together.” Cheryl hopes to stay in touch with the driving team.
Marty reminded, “We’ll still see her because she’s going to be driving a school bus for Dunn the Mover, at least for a while,” so they will cross paths.
When asked what else she has planned, Woodcox replied after giving it some thought, “Mostly doing things for other people, I imagine. I’ve been driving school buses for 39 years, Transit for 38. I can’t just stop totally.”
Cheryl, facing her last Transit day this week, has a final thought that can make her smile; a grand accomplishment. “I’m just thrilled because I’ve driven every route this town’s had, every Transit bus this town’s had. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved over the 38 years. How many people can say they’ve worked 38 years in their dream job? And I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Photos of Cheryl Woodcox taken by Christine Whelan
Photos of Cheryl’s collection pieces provided by Cheryl Woodcox