George Voracek never gave much thought to how long he’d drive bus for the Faribault School District. But after 50 years — 10 of them following his retirement, he said, “I still enjoy it.”
Voracek began driving for the bus service formerly known as Merrill and Wunderlich in 1969 and became a partner in the company in 1971. With the change in ownership, the bus service was renamed the Faribault School Bus Co. When Voracek’s brother-in-law Tom Merrill bought into his father’s business, the company became Faribault Transportation, as it’s known today.
“Other than the fact that the buses themselves have gotten so much nicer, I’d say the students are the same type of students,” said Voracek. “ … [I enjoy] the driving, and you get to know some of the students and interact with them.”
Although Voracek has worked for three different bus service companies over the course of his first decade as a bus driver, the employees and responsibilities remained the same. Voracek completed the majority of the maintenance and mechanical work while Merrill served as bookkeeper.
“[Tom] interacted with the drivers more so than I did,” said Voracek. “My function was to keep all the buses running.”
The daily repairs became second nature to Voracek, who did the oil changes, tire work and electrical maintenance for the buses. He and Merrill bought buses brand new and used them for 10 years before trading them in for other companies to buy.
Voracek’s job involved more than bus upkeep and driving, however.
“A lot of it is in the planning of the various routes and trying to get timetables set up so that everybody is accommodated at a decent time,” said Voracek. “You’ve got all the drivers training that goes on — all the drivers are certified by the state … Also in the fall of the year, all the school buses themselves are state inspected. I don’t know how many people really realize all that.”
In his 50 years of driving bus, Voracek encountered his worst weather conditions only this past spring, when a snowstorm came through around 3 p.m., in the same hour school dismissed. Unable to see ahead of him, Voracek needed to turn the bus around and bring students back to Faribault High School. Parents picked up the majority of the students while Faribault Transportation transferred others with four-wheel drive vehicles.
The weather, said Voracek, is definitely the most challenging aspect of being a bus driver.
“We have to be out there driving, and the weather is a major factor of how well we can perform our job,” said Voracek. “The drivers are super drivers, and they’re up to the challenge and they do come through quite well.”
Voracek and Merrill retired around the same time and sold their business nine years ago. Now, Garrett Regan owns and manages Faribault Transportation and does the routing work Voracek previously did.
“Personally, for me, when I came to town, George was an awesome person to have around,” said Regan. “… He’s continued to care if we have a question about the building [after retiring] and always comes through when needed.”
Since his retirement, Voracek has continued to drive bus on an as-needed basis. Although finding qualified drivers is a challenge, he said the Faribault School District is fortunate to get by with the number of drivers needed. However, he said Faribault Transportation is always looking for more drivers.
“It’s a big team,” said Voracek. “Everybody has to do their part of the team. We all work together to keep students as safe as we can to bring them to school and back home.”
The Emeralds of Faribault will be holding an Employee Recognition dinner in celebration of six employees who have served care center residents for more than 40 years each.
In the late 1970s, the center hired Tammy Quast, Deb Keilen, Teresa Ozmun, Joann Snow, Brenda Schwartz, and Abbie Swanson. Ever since, these six women who have formed the bedrock of the care center’s staff.
It wasn’t so clear at the time that the new hires would stick around. In fact, several of the women said that they were on the verge of quitting within their first few days or weeks on the job.
Things didn’t go quite according to plan. While it’s true that the women are finally starting to think about hanging up their coats again, they now have a combined total of more than 200 years of experience under their belts.
Even after all these years, their enthusiasm for serving care center residents remains undimmed. For now, their drive to serve care center residents still keeps them coming back and colleagues say that if and when they do choose to retire, they’ll definitely be missed.
“This is an incredible accomplishment to be committed and dedicated to providing care and service to our residents & families for forty years,” said Emeralds at Faribault Administrator Joe Gubbels in a statement. “We are very proud of all of them and are very fortunate to have them employed here.”
The care center, previously known as St. Lucas Healthcare Community, was re-branded as The Emeralds when it was sold to Mankato-based Monarch Healthcare Management last year. The Emeralds, just a block from District One Hospital, sits on a site that has been home to a health care facility of one sort or another for more than 100 years.
Many years before District One Hospital would open its doors, St. Lucas Hospital was opened in 1908 by St. Lucas German Evangelical Church, today known as St. Luke’s Church. In the early years, the hospital was run in large part by the Deaconess Sisters, a sisterhood for women of the German Evangelical Church dedicated to nursing and welfare causes. They also ran an affiliated nursing school.
For more than 30 years, the church and hospital were so closely tied that the church pastor served as hospital superintendent. Yet while the church and the care center maintained close ties for many years, the care center eventually became independent.
With a determined and energetic team of volunteers, Faribault’s Yellow Ribbon Committee continues to work throughout the community to help military families get the assistance they need.
Faribault became a Yellow Ribbon City in 2012 through the efforts of the Yellow Ribbon Organizing committee. It was the first city in Rice County to earn that designation, with Northfield following in 2016. Throughout Minnesota, more than 260 cities have Yellow Ribbon status.
Thanks to the support of generous community members, Faribault Beyond the Yellow Ribbon has managed to organize some larger events. Last November, the group held a dinner in support of more than 100 deploying service members and their family members at the Faribault Armory.
More recently, the group had a presence at the Taste of Faribault. At the Yellow Ribbon table, Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn and Faribault City Councilman Tom Spooner answered questions, accepted donations and handed out samples of MREs, pre-made meals that troops eat when cooking facilities are not available.
This weekend, the group will have a presence at a free veterans breakfast at the American Legion sponsored by Affinity Plus. Yet much of the work Beyond the Yellow Ribbon does is behind the scenes.
Whether it’s a veteran, service member or one of their family members who needs help, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon works to connect them with the resources available at the state, federal and local levels. Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’s board includes leaders from city and county government, health and social services officials, law enforcement and business.
Even more important is the help Beyond the Yellow Ribbon volunteers offer individual service members. From providing snow removal services for a woman whose husband was on deployment to helping a disabled veteran to move, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’s volunteers do what they can to make life just a little bit easier for our nation’s heroes.
With so many Beyond the Yellow Ribbon chapters across the state, military members and their families know they can count on receiving support no matter where they are.
Dennis Germann, a Vietnam War veteran and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon member, said that it’s important to him to have an organization providing support for military veterans and their family members because he often found such support to be in short supply during and even following his service.
“The strength of the organization is that we work together,” Germann said. “People know that if a veteran or active duty family has a need, they can contact someone in the Yellow Ribbon and there’ll be a response very quickly.”