Larry Bluthardt, Kansas' state director of pupil transportation for the past two decades, retired in mid-July citing health reasons.
Bluthardt told School Transportation News that he suffers from COPD and that he developed MRSA in his lungs in the spring.
"I used to enjoy packing a suitcase and getting in the state car and traveling, checking into a hotel, getting up early and doing a class or presentation," he said, adding that it had become too hard to talk or stand for any length of time. "It got to be too hard to do. I had to take a hard look at everything and had a window of opportunity to retire."
Bluthardt joined the student transportation industry in May of 1988 when he was hired by the Kansas Department of Education as a safety specialist, with one of his responsibilities being to supervise first aid, CPR and defensive driving training for school bus drivers and driver trainers. The role was moved to the Kansas State Department of Education in the mid 1990s.
At both KDOT and KSDE, Bluthardt also supervised the National School Bus Loading & Unloading Survey. He told STN that KSDE School Bus Safety Unit staff member Wilma Crabtree will continue to conduct the survey this year, but he added he was unsure of long-term goals to keep the study alive. The survey is entering its 43rd consecutive year of reporting student fatalities at the school bus stop.
What he said he'll miss most about the industry is the people and attending national shows. Jim Schwartzman, president of the Kansas State Pupil Transportation Association, already extended an invitation to Bluthardt to be a guest at next summer's conference.
"I really, really enjoyed going to NAPT and NASDPTS national meetings. It was an education and very informative and a lot of fun to meet other state directors, and to see the new ones come in," added Bluthardt. "I also looked forward to (the National Congress on School Transportation). I learned a lot and met a lot of really neat people who cared about the safety of the kids. That's what it is all about.
"I'm really going to miss that."
He said he heard that the KSDE will likely wait until this winter to name his successor as state director. Meanwhile, Schwartzman told STN that he considered Bluthardt to be the state's "Mr. School Bus" and urged whomever replaces Bluthardt to continue the National Loading and Unloading Survey.
"It is a helpful training tool to both districts and contractors," he added.
Bluthardt's service began in 1969 as a police officer in Manhattan, Kan. In the late 1970s, he moved to the Kansas State Law Enforcement Academy, where he was a crash investigation coordinator and later a certified state police instructor.