By Mike Bush
Greenfield, IL (KSDK) - If you had to describe the Midwest in just two words, those two words could be Greenfield, Illinois.
"It's just a small community of maybe 1,200 people," explained former resident Donna Spears.
Streets in the heart of America are paved with sincerity and they all have names like Mulberry and Walnut but no one knows these streets like Doris Hudson.
Hudson has been driving kids to and from Greenfield Elementary for 43 years.
"I don't know of anybody who has worked for 43 years for our district at least in my lifetime," said Greenfield Schools Superintendent Kevin Bowman.
She's both the first person from school the students see every day and the last.
"We become a family. It's your family, I used to call them my kids," said Hudson.
Hudson was raising her own five children back in 1969, when she heard that the district needed a bus driver.
"And I looked at that," she said, "and I thought well, I'll be off when the kids are off."
Still, it was only supposed to last a short time but both the years and the miles kept rolling by. She now has 13 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren
"She's really the center of this family," said Spears, her daughter. "She makes sure we're all together all of the time."
When you've spent more than four decades keeping your eyes on the road, you learn to also have them in the back of your head.
"When the kids get on the bus, I'll always say who gets off first? So they can always learn who gets off next. So, if you make a mistake they can tell you," laughed Hudson.
But when she's behind the wheel the rules are simple. No yelling. No fighting.
"She says calm down or you'll have to come sit in the front," explained 9-year-old Gavin Roberts. "And I had to sit in the front a few times."
Hudson has driven the bus about 9,000 miles a year. If you multiply that by 43 years and she's gone around the world more than 15 times.
"So she's had all those safe trips getting the students back and forth," said Spears.
Recently though, Hudson announced that she'll be hitting the brakes on her driving career at the end of the school year. She wants to spend more time with her family and she wants to go out quietly, a point she made quite clear. But not clear enough.
The entire school gathered in the gymnasium for a surprise thank you, giving her a standing ovation. After years of giving students a lift, they gave her one.
The host of the celebration was Bowman, who again happens to be the superintendent of schools. He rode on Doris' bus when he was in the first grade.
"We want our bus drivers to make everyday special for the kids," he said. "She sure did for me and still does today."
After some good memories were shared inside, everyone moved outside for a more permanent reminder of a job well done. A tree was planted in Doris' honor.
"I think it's kind of sad that she's leaving and she won't be driving anymore but it's kind of good that she can have fun with her family and stuff," said 10-year-old Tristanna Fones.
The school buses will still pick up kids in the morning and drop them off in the afternoon but somehow the streets of Greenfield will be a little emptier.
It's quite a feat to drive generations of kids thousands of miles and to still manage to make them feel at home.