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USD 489 job a 'different challenge'

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Bus driver was not on his list of wannabes when he grew up.

But, hey, a guy can change his mind -- especially after 20-some years of doing the same thing.

That's what Russ Henningsen did when he heard about an opening for transportation director for Hays USD 489.

He checked it out, got the job and now is following in the footsteps of -- well, sort of -- his parents, who both drove school buses in Jewell County in north-central Kansas during his younger days.

Henningsen will drive a bus on occasion, but for the most part, he is in charge of others transporting local school children to school and to various school activities across the state.

Henningsen had worked in the welding supply business, mostly in Hays, since his college days at Fort Hays State University and was looking for a change.

One day, he saw an ad in the newspaper for USD 489's transportation director position, vacated in December when Gavon Smith left after 11 years for a similar position in Valley Center.

In addition to knowing something about the life of a school bus driver, Henningsen is familiar with the Hays school district, where both of his sons have attended school their entire careers.

Trevor Henningsen is a 2012 graduate of Hays High School and now attends Fort Hays State University, while younger son Trenton is a sophomore at Hays High.

"I wanted something different, a different challenge," said Henningsen, who began his second week of work in his new career Monday.

A challenge he got in just his second day on the job when snow in the area Jan. 29 caused icy road conditions.

He also has to deal with occasional disagreements between students on the bus, field calls from parents and oversee the office that includes three other employees as well as about 20 bus drivers and a full-time mechanic.

"Every day, there's something new," said Henningsen, who is interviewing applicants for a dispatcher, as well as bus drivers. "And everything is a timely issue."

One of the biggest changes for Henningsen is getting to work more with people all day long than in his former career, something he likes.

"There are so many other routes than just the normal school routes," he said, naming a few such as preschool, the gifted program and mentor programs. "So there are bus drivers in and out all the time."

Melissa Irwin had filled in for a couple weeks until Henningsen came on board, in addition to her duties as office manager.

"I am so glad he is here," Irwin said Monday, flashing a big smile as she stuck her head in the door of Henningsen's office on her way out the door.

The feeling is mutual.

"There's a lot of great people working here," Henningsen said, admitting his co-workers in and out of the office have made it easier for him in getting comfortable in his new surroundings.

"They're training me right now," he said.