School bus driver Douglas Sexton rises with the sun on days he’s called to work for the Depew Union Free School District and its 2,100 young passengers. The substitute bus driver has moonlighted for 29 years taking children to and from schools in Holland and in Depew.
His full-time gig is as a Baptist pastor formerly at First Baptist Church of Holland and currently at Hedstrom Memorial Baptist Church in Cheektowaga.
As a bus driver, Sexton said his pastoral people skills help ease him down the roads. So do his award-winning driving skills, which recently earned him first place in the van category at the 2014 School Bus Safety Road-eo in Albany.
Sexton, 52, and his wife, Sharie, reside in the Village of Lancaster. They have three grown sons.
People Talk: Who taught you how to drive a car?
Douglas Sexton: My mother, in a church parking lot in Baltimore.
PT: You were raised in Baltimore?
DS: My dad was in the military. I was born in Queens. My sister was born in Orleans, France. We spent two years in Germany, two years in Alabama and two years in Kansas. So I’ve been all over, but I don’t have quite the drawl that my cousins do.
PT: Where did you study to be a minister?
DS: Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. That’s where I met my wife, who actually grew up in Lancaster.
PT: What inspired you spiritually?
DS: It wasn’t until I was 7 that my mom didn’t just go to church, she began to understand what church was all about. It’s about a relationship with a God who loves us. That began to point me in that direction. Two years later, when I was 9, I realized that being religious was not enough. I didn’t start pursuing ministry full time until I was 16, maybe 17.
PT: It’s unusual for a 9-year-old to think like that.
DS: We were in between Germany and Kansas. My dad was in Vietnam and the pastor asked my mom to hold a Bible club in our home, which was actually my grandmother’s. My older brother was a straight-A student, fairly good at sports. I was not. But in Germany I was altar boy at the base chapel, and sang in the youth choir.
PT: Does being a pastor make you a better bus driver?
DS: Yes, the people skills.
PT: What kind of mechanic are you?
DS: I am not a mechanic, but I can follow a video on YouTube. As far as the bus, we’re not allowed to touch anything. Even though we are the Depew Union Free School District. We are not union-free.
PT: How have school budget constraints affected your job?
DS: The high school and middle school runs were combined so we don’t make the same loop twice. But in today’s society more and more of the 11th- and 12th-graders are driving themselves.
PT: Tell me about today’s drivers.
DS: They are more bodacious. Even though your reds are on they will pass you, not knowing whether there is a child crossing in front of your bus or not. Drivers could get four to six points on their license. If traffic infractions involve a school bus, it doubles the fines. It’s not like these people have not been on the street with you, because you are there on the street at the exact same time every day.
PT: How have your passengers changed over the years?
DS: The buses are quieter. Before there was a lot more interaction on the bus. Now you’ll find elementary school kids involved in playing electronic games. When there is an argument, it’s over a game that should be in their backpacks.
PT: How bad is bullying?
DS: Not as bad as it used to be. No matter how much you regulate bullying, it will always take place because kids are mean. Human beings are mean. I think the younger kids tend to bully more because they don’t understand the consequences. I don’t see it that much on the bus.
PT: Were you bullied?
DS: Yes. I’m small. The smallest kid is always the first kid to get picked on. It never bothered me. I knew it was part of the territory. I grew up and I’m pretty fine. I had to learn to be confident in who I am.