Memories of school bus driver pour in

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 12, 2011

By Shelley Smith and Sarah Campbell
CLEVELAND — Wayne and Alice Weaver were inseparable for more than 44 years. They met in middle school in Ashe-ville, graduated high school, and then went on to Western Carolina University together.
“They were just made for each other,” said Rick Hampton, longtime friend and colleague of both. “It’s going to be hard to imagine one without the other now.”
Wayne was killed Tuesday night in a wreck on N.C. 150, and Alice was flown to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, where she remains in serious condition.
The Weavers’ pastor, Rev. Mary Louis Sitton of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Mt. Ulla, was with the family at the hospital Wednesday. She said her phone hadn’t stopped ringing all day with friends and church members calling to check on Alice.
“This outpouring of phone calls is just a testament to how Alice and Wayne have impacted so many people’s lives,” she said.
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Bus No. 19 at Cleveland Elementary School won’t be the same without Wayne Weaver behind the wheel.
“He’s genuinely cared about the students and faculty here,” said Shirley Holt, the school’s assistant principal.
Holt said Wayne never let students leave his bus without flashing a big smile and offering well wishes for the day, even when they weren’t on their best behavior.
“Sometimes when the kids didn’t listen he would keep them on the bus, but when he got through talking with them he always said, ‘Have a good day,’ ” she said. “He’s just a wonderful, caring person.”
Teacher Lane Graham said the students always responded well to Wayne, speaking to him in the hallways after he finished his route.
“He knew them all by name” he said. “He always had a kind word for the kids and the adults too.”
Wayne began his career with the Rowan-Salisbury School System as a temporary custodian at Cleveland Elementary in 1989.
By 1997, he was the head custodian at West Rowan Middle, and Alice was also working at West Middle, alongside Hampton, for about 10 years.
“Anywhere Wayne was, I think he brought some sunshine and laughter,” Hampton said.
Hampton was lucky enough to travel with Wayne and Alice on day trips many times with friends, going to bluegrass concerts, museums and even shopping outlets.
“We didn’t do a whole lot of it, but when we did it was always special,” he said. “During those years at West Middle I kind of felt like we were a family.
“It’s just so sudden, such a shock to everybody. It’ll be hard without him.”
Wayne retired from West Rowan in 2008 and began working as a full-time bus driver at Cleveland last fall.
Cleveland Principal Becky Kepley-Lee said she’s known both Alice and Wayne since she started at Cleveland about 23 years ago. At that time, Alice was working in the front office. Alice retired from the school system, but spends her days volunteering at Cleveland Elementary. “They are good people and a good family,” Kepley-Lee said.
And she says the school is already missing Wayne’s bright smile. “He was always smiling,” she said. “He was just so happy-go-lucky, I never saw the man upset.”
Graham said when students asked Wayne how he was doing, his response was always the same: “Everything is lovely.”
On Wednesday, students were given the news of Wayne’s death in small groups. Counselors were available for those who needed to talk. Kepley-Lee also sent out an automated Connect-Ed phone message to parents to let them know what was going on.
• • •
Everyone who knew him described Wayne as a family man.
“He was proud of his grandkids and his children,” St. Luke’s member Judy Getzlaff said. “He was always bragging about (his grandson) Jack playing baseball … You would see them at the ballfield all the time.”
On Tuesday night, Wayne and Alice were running errands for the church and heading to Jack’s game.
“He showed up to every one of Jack’s Little League baseball games with his chair ready to cheer on the team,” said Jonathan Weaver, Wayne and Alice’s son.
Jonathan said his father’s “face lit up every time he laid eyes on (his granddaughter) Audrey.
“Dad loved the outdoors and bluegrass music,” he said. “But most of all he loved his grandchildren. … He rarely missed an event in their lives.
“They both made him so happy.”
Rev. Sitton said Alice started The Hearts and Hands for Hope Ministry, which would gather at Wayne and Alice’s home to make blankets for “anyone in our congregation who needs a hug or a reminder that they’re loved,” Sitton said. “They’re both just special people.”
Getzlaff, a Cleveland Elementary teacher assistant, got to know Wayne in the hallways at school and church.
“He had a quick wit about him,” she said. “He could really make you laugh.”
Getzlaff said she also remembers Wayne’s softer side.
“He was a good friend. If you needed to talk he was willing to listen,” she said.
Max Gibbons, a former principal of Cleveland Elementary, said, “Anything he could do to help a person, he would do it.”
Jonathan said his dad was a true “Mr. Fix It.”
“If he didn’t know how to do something, he would always figure it out,” he said. Everyone knew he would get the job done no matter what it took.”
• • •
Graham said everyone at Cleveland Elementary will be trying to look after Alice.
“Him and the Mrs. were very much a dynamic duo. They were the perfect pair, soul mates,” he said. “We’ve got to be there for her because she’s been there for us.”
The students have made cards and posters to send to Alice while she recovers.
“This faculty is like a big family, they will do anything they can to pitch in and help,” Kepley-Lee said.
Rev. Sitton said everyone at St. Lukes is praying for Alice’s recovery. “This family is a strong family,” Sitton said. “They love each other, they love God, and understand that even in the midst of this tragedy that God is present.”
Jonathan and his sister, Laurie, said Wednesday their mother is “getting better by the hour,” recovering from several fractures, and is awake and coherent.
“On Tuesday night, Mom commented that she and dad had a lot of good days together,” Jonathan said.
“Even today,” Jonathan said she told her family Tuesday night, “until this, today was a good day.”
He added, “We are very appreciative for the amazing outpouring of love and support from everyone.”