Back in 1969, Terry Volk’s three young children were approaching school age, and she was looking for a job with a schedule that worked around theirs. She had a job lined up, but before she could start, she went out with a friend on a bus route, and the rest is history. For the past 50 years, Volk has cemented her place in the community as a Merrillville bus driver.
“Our babysitter’s father was the mechanic at that time, and when she brought it up I considered it because I love driving,” Volk said. “Back then, you didn’t have to have all the training you have to have now. Her dad took me out on a route. Then Mr. Holderman, who was the boss, took me out. They trusted me immediately, and I started out by taking some of the overloads.”
The job was a perfect fit for Volk and her family. It didn’t require any special training. She wouldn’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe to create a uniform. She had great support from the department and her neighbors. And, as she said, she loved driving.
Volk and her husband Paul, who was a State Trooper at the time, first moved to Merrillville after the birth of their first child. They appreciated the sense of community that they had grown up with in Calumet Township.
Like many who grew up in Calumet Township, Volk fondly remembers a childhood in a tight-knit community. She grew up in a world where a kid could ride their bike to the cousin’s house down the street and around the corner, a world where kids played outside from sun up to sun down, in a neighborhood where the most fun you could have was sliding down the fire escape at old Ross Elementary. When she and Paul were ready to establish their own family, they wanted a community that offered something similar.
“Merrillville was the new place to move to, when we moved here,” Volk said. “Mom and Dad lived a couple blocks from us.”
Now grown up, Volk’s children have stayed pretty close, too. This idea of community, of the nearness of family, is engrained in the Northwest Indiana spirit. We grow up with it. We live it every day. This is what home feels like.
“I’ve always had good kids,” Volk said of the students she’s driven over the years. “A lot of them keep in touch. One came to the board meeting when I got my 50th certificate. She actually ended up being my granddaughter’s softball coach!”
About a decade ago, Volk switched her focus to busing children with special needs.
“I have wonderful kids. I love them,” Volk said. “I wish I’d switched a long time before I did.”
As Volk nears retirement, she counts the reasons she stays on. When she started, she was a part of a close team of bus drivers who spent time with each other outside work. They’d host pool parties and get together often to play games and enjoy each other’s company. That community still exists, which gives Volk hope for a bright future.
“Mr. Holderman was my boss when I first started. He was a wonderful boss, and we all had a lot of fun working with him,” Volk said. “I think a lot of my boss now, Greg Griffith. I’ve had a lot of good bosses along the way. Mr. Griffith has a photographic memory, I believe, and it just blows my mind. He knows where all the buses go – and there’s more than 90 buses to keep track of! You give him an address and he knows which bus covers that area. That’s quite something. He’s just a good boss as far as I’m concerned, and he treats me well.”
“Getting old is not for sissies,” Volk said. “The bus is beating me up some; I had a 5-speed for 20 years and you didn’t have automatic doors and stop-arms; you did it all by hand.”
Now, as Volk deals with issues like arthritis, there’s one thing that keeps her coming back for more.
“None of my health issues keep me from driving those kids and from school every day,” Volk said, “and when you get to see great kids every day, there’s really no better reason to get up and get out of the house.”