She started her career with Valley View School District as a bus driver more than 36 years ago.
Now, as she prepares to retire at the end of the current school year, VVSD Director of Transportation Lucy Harding is singing the praises of her team and looking back fondly on her department’s many successes.
“We’re a very proactive district when it comes to transportation,” the longtime Romeoville resident said. “We want up-to-date vehicles and we make sure we’re doing everything by the book so we can keep our kids safe.”
Under Harding’s guidance, Valley View has always been among the first in the state to institute new safety procedures. A perfect example: VVSD didn’t wait for the state to require seat belts for children on buses. A staff member had them installed before the law was passed.
“We provide safe transportation with a great safety record,” she said. “That’s what I’m proudest of.”
Harding took a VVSD bus driver job in 1976 when classes were held year-round and the district was flexible in allowing her to work the 45 days that her kids were in school and stay home the 15 days they were home.
Three years later she became the secretary/dispatcher for the entire Transportation department, working out of a three-room trailer on 135th Street near what is now Martinez Middle School, a position she held for a few years until she was promoted to “coordinator” (assistant manager) and ultimately to manager of transportation.
“I liked the payroll aspects of it and I liked dispatch. I also liked helping people,” she recalls. “I was kind of in the right places at the right time.”
In 1992, Harding, who admits to being an “A” type personality in need of a challenge, decided to take a job as Manager of the Westmont terminal for Vancom. The privately-owned school bus company soon recognized her talent and made Her Director of Safety for their 21 Illinois terminals.
Already armed with infinite knowledge about bus safety, regulations and personnel, it was with Vancom that Harding added her outstanding logistical knowledge, serving for four months as the coordinator of 2,000 buses and 4,000 drivers that shuttled volunteers and some athletes between sites at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
“It was a very rewarding, educational experience for me,” Harding said. “I don’t regret doing it but I won’t ever do it again.”
When she returned home from the Olympics, Vancom was sold to Laidlaw and she was put in a financial management position “that wasn’t for me.” So she left and worked for a short time at Cook Illinois/Kickert Bus Lines before starting her own transportation consulting business.
In the summer of 1999, she returned home.
“I heard there was a director opening in Valley View,” she recalls. “I was so fortunate to come back.”
Harding calls herself “the mother” of a group of Chicago-area school transportation officials who share ideas with each other. More accurately, she is the “dean” of the group…the veteran with vast knowledge. She was the first female president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation. She says “I’m not an expert” but if she doesn’t know the answer, she always knows where to go to get the answer.
In fact Harding will put that expertise to use once she retires by resurrecting her consulting business.
“I’ve already got some jobs signed up,” she said. “I’ll continue to share my knowledge.”
Oh sure, she may travel a little, especially to make leisurely visits to her four kids, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. But don’t look for her to develop any of the traditional retirement hobbies.
“I need a challenge that requires me to do my homework,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to get that from bowling or anything like that.”
As for advice for whoever is chosen as her successor, “always say please and thank you” when asking the staff to do something. Oh yes…and show respect, trust, listen, and smile and laugh more than you frown or grumble.
“I’m ready to retire. This department is in a position for me to do that because I know the people here will serve the community just as well as we have done for all these years,” she said. “This isn’t one person’s doing. It’s all the people who have worked here. There’s no way I could have done this on my own.”