Navy veteran and School-Related Professional Darci Ordway will never forget her first school bus run.
As she nervously pulled up the hulking 40-foot shiny yellow bus to her first stop, a young girl, barely big enough to lift her legs upon the high steps, got onto the bus and said, “Thank god you’re here. If my mom fluffed my hair one more time I was going to lose it.”
That’s all it took for Ordway — who calls her young riders “Huffalumps” — to get hooked.
Ordway started out as a driver so she could be with her four boys after school and during the summer, and to provide them with good health insurance through her union job. But — thanks in large part to her “Huffalumps” — she realized she loved what she was doing and stayed on after her own kids finished school.
She even served as a two-term past president of the Chatham Central Bus Drivers Association, as well as on the board of Our Community Cares, which helps local veterans with transportation, resources and support.
Service: to her union, her community, her country — that’s how this bus driver rolls.
“I loved it all,” she said.
Ordway also knows up close and personal the high price of service.
Her grandfather Charles Hover was a New York state trooper from what is now Troop G. He was drafted into World War II and served as a lieutenant. Then, while aboard an airplane heading back to the United States at the end of his service, he was killed when his aircraft was shot down over Mirandola, Italy.
Waiting at home was his three-month old son, who would become Ordway’s father.
The preciousness of life is part of Ordway’s DNA. In the morning, her bus full, Ordway pulls up to the school and has all the kids get quiet. Then she has them shout, “I am beautiful! I am smart! I am the best kid I know!”
Ordway considers herself and her fellow school bus drivers to be ambassadors. She’s the first face that students see when they step onto her bus, which takes them to class and then back home at the end of the day. She’s the one who makes sure they all know each other — this floppy mix of kids from kindergarteners through seniors — so they feel comfortable tapping one another for support while in school.
Ordway joined the Navy one day before her high school graduation, serving from 1987-1993 in California.
Her first assignment was as a chef for crews of up to 2,200 soldiers training to be Navy Seals. Three times a day, they were very hungry – and sometimes after special drills they might need a midnight meal.
The second half of her military career was spent at a Naval air station as a petty officer coordinating room assignments and maintenance at military housing occupied by enlisted soldiers who ultimately were deployed to the first Gulf War, and other places.
“You were never sure who was going to return,” she said. “There were people who didn’t show up at the door to take their key.”
In her spare time, Ordway — whose voicemail greeting says she may “be out having some kind of adventure” — is anything but idle.
Every year she rides her bike 310 miles from the World Trade Center in New York to Washington, D.C. in memory of her grandfather as part of a group that pedals to honor fallen troopers.
The group is called New York State Police Chapter 37 in honor of the 37 Port Authority officers killed in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. The riders raise money and awareness.
The ride is all part of Ordway’s belief in service, and steadfast remembrance of the sacrifice her grandfather, and so many others, have made.
“I loved serving my country…volunteering to stand under that flag,” she said. “Other countries have no vote, no freedom, no choice. These are people who fought for us, so we could have civil rights, so we could progress with freedom of speech and freedom of a political party. We vote, and we use our voices that were protected by veterans.”