Channahon woman was said to be state’s first female school bus driver
BY DENISE M. BARAN-UNLAND Correspondent September 8, 2013 9:32PM
The late Dorothy Anderson of Channahon and her son, the late Dan Anderson, then 4, stand beside the school bus Dorothy drove for 40 schoolchildren decades ago. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 10, 2013 6:08AM
At a time when women seemingly worked only as nurses, teachers or secretaries, Dorothy Anderson of Channahon became the first female school bus driver in Illinois, according to her son, Jim Anderson of Channahon.
Dorothy also helped her husband, the late Alfred Anderson, owner of Al’s Garage and Auto Salvage in Channahon, as a secretary and mechanical helper.
“During the 1970s, she drove a semi car hauler with scrap automobiles from Al’s Garage to California Avenue in Chicago to be shredded for metal,” said Jim, now owner of Al’s Garage.
Challenges didn’t daunt Dorothy. She’d known them all of her life.
The farm of her childhood sat near railroad and streetcar tracks. While she was a student at Minooka Grade School, Dorothy’s job was to fetch the teacher’s lunch from a downtown restaurant.
“Once,” Jim said, “she arrived in time to witness a bank robbery. She was scared but the robbers were caught.”
Dorothy detested washing dishes, preferring to fetch wood, coal and corn cobs for the wood burner, Jim said. During one particularly hard winter, Dorothy’s parents and her five siblings had only canned tomatoes to eat.
“They all broke out from the acid in the tomatoes and were sent home from school,” said Dorothy’s daughter, Pat Niese of Arizona. “The school administrator thought they had measles.”
Al, Niese said, was painting a water tower when he noticed Dorothy and promised himself, “I’m going to marry her,” which he did Dec. 20, 1934, about a month before Dorothy’s birthday.
“She turned 14 years old as a married woman,” Niese said. “Al bought her the first pair of high-heeled shoes she owned.”
In the early years of her marriage, Dorothy worked a succession of jobs: as a waitress, at the Joliet arsenal and at a factory that manufactured car seats.
She enjoyed baking — especially oatmeal bread — and making beautiful bouquets from crepe paper and wood fiber, Niese said.
When the school needed a bus, Al donated one. Then, without consulting Dorothy, he suggested she drive it.
In preparation, Dorothy successfully completed a first-aid course and obtained a chauffeur’s license, Jim said.
With five of her six children in tow, Dorothy drove 40 miles each day to bring and take home 40 schoolchildren, Jim said. Dorothy also transported the children to and from school activities, such as basketball games.
According to a 2011 newspaper report, the village recognized her at its 50th anniversary that year for being the state’s first woman bus driver.
A dedicated member of River of Life Lutheran Church in Channahon, Dorothy loved breakfasting with friends after Sunday services at Lone Star Restaurant in Channahon, Jim said. Those breakfasts could (and often did) last several hours.
Dorothy was 92 when she died July 9.
“She had a great personality and always had a smile on her face,” Jim said. “She was easy to get along with and always went along with the show.”
To nominate someone to be featured in “An Extraordinary Life,” contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.