As a 28-year veteran bus driver for Valley View School District 365U, Gloria Gonzalez knows she has a lot of responsibility.
"There's nothing as important as the life of a child," Gonzalez said. "The safety of the students supersede everything that we do. They're number one, always."
Never was it so apparent, she said, after a snowstorm when "the streets were like Teflon" and it was "really, really slippery." While scanning all of her mirrors, Gonzalez saw a mother bless the bus.
"When I see the parents waiting there -- especially the kindergarten and first-graders -- and I see the look in their eyes, they're trusting us," she said. "They're trusting us to give their kids a safe ride to and from school. That's a huge obligation."
Gonzalez was honored last month as a Pillar of Valley View. She has clocked more than 1.2 million miles as a bus driver during her 27 years and roughly nine months of service.
She has had no at-fault accidents during that time and has served 1,275,750 students safely. Gonzalez has had perfect attendance for 20 of those 27 years.
When it was required for drivers to have a commercial driver's license, Gonzalez studied hard an earned a 100 on all her tests, she said. That caught the attnetion of the administration, and she became a trainer.
For 16 years, she has trained other bus drivers. "I take my responsibility extremely, extremely seriously," she said. Gonzalez emphasizes her most important lesson: the kids always come first.
"She has been a role model and mentor to numerous fellow employees," said Lucy Harding, director of transportation, when Gonzalez was introduced as a Pillar of Valley View. "She is gentle and caring with her students."
All in the family
Gonzalez and her husband have lived in Romeoville for 35 years. They have five children, all of whom attended Valley View schools and graduated from Romeoville High School. Of her 11 grandchildren, two graduated from RHS.
Some people don't think they could handle driving a large vehicle, she said. "I like handling the huge vehicle," Gonzalez said. "I like it better than my car."