Lucy Harding may be closing a chapter on her 36-year career with Valley View (Ill.) School District when she retires at the end of this school year, but the transportation director is not closing the book. She loves the school transportation industry too much. Harding has plans to restart her school transportation consulting business so she can share her wealth of experience with other student transporters.
“I’ve already got some jobs signed up,” she said. “I’ll continue to share my knowledge.”
In 1976 Harding took a bus driver job with Valley View when classes were held year-round and the district allowed her to work the 45 days school was in session and stay home the 15 days her kids were off. Three years later she became the secretary and dispatcher for the entire transportation department, was later promoted to assistant manager and eventually to manager of transportation.
“I liked the payroll aspects of it, and I liked dispatch. I also liked helping people,” she recalled. “I was kind of in the right places at the right time.”
In 1994, she was elected the first female president of the National Association for Pupil Transportation, where she served a two-year term.
NAPT Executive Director noted that Harding was not only the organization’s first female president but she was also the first woman to sit on its Board of Directors.
“For that, and a variety of other reasons, she is one of my heroes and has been since the day I met her in 1995," said Martin. "She is almost always two steps ahead of the crowd without trying to be, and she is fearless, especially when she believes that what she is doing or wants to do will help children."
Even today, Harding calls herself “the mother” of a group of Chicago-area school transportation officials who share ideas with one another, and she readily admits she is no expert. But if she doesn’t have the answer, she always knows where to get it.
As she contemplates her career and her department’s many successes, she points to the hard work of her team. She knows the time is right to retire because she can rest in the knowledge that her staff will serve the community just as well as they have for so many years.
“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,” she added.
Harding emphasized that her school district and transportation department have been very proactive in keeping their yellow bus fleet up-to-date and doing everything "by the book" in order to keep their students safe.
Under Harding’s leadership, Valley View has always been among the first in the state to implement new safety procedures. For example, the district did not wait for the state of Illinois to require seat belts for children on buses but instead had them installed before the law was passed.
“We provide safe transportation with a great safety record,” Harding continued. “That’s what I’m proudest of.”
She concedes she has a Type-A type personality and is constantly looking for new challenges, which might explain why she left VVSD in an effort to branch out. In 1992 she decided to take on a managerial job at the Westmont terminal for Vancom, and soon she was promoted to director of safety for their 21 Illinois terminals. There, Harding enhanced her logistical knowledge by serving as the coordinator of 2,000 buses and 4,000 drivers that shuttled volunteers as well as athletes between sites at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
After the Olympics were over, Laidlaw acquired Vancom and Harding was moved into a financial management position, but she said it wasn’t the right fit for her. So she left the company and worked briefly at Cook Illinois/Kickert Bus Lines before launching her own transportation consulting business.
Them, in the summer of 1999, she came full circle and returned to her home district.
“I heard there was a director opening in Valley View,” Harding said. “I was so fortunate to come back.”
The longtime Romeoville resident is still counting her blessings as she prepares to depart that home and enter a new era that will balance her role as student transportation consultant with another important role — grandma. She has four kids, eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
Harding cannot help but pass on some motherly advice to whoever is chosen as her successor: Always say “please” and “thank you” to your staff, show respect, trust others, be a good listener and stay positive, she said — smile and laugh more often than you frown or grumble.
After all, it worked for her.