A retired sailor serves the community with infectious positivity

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — The nationwide shortage of bus drivers at the start of this new school year has been in the headlines a lot. So this week, we’re featuring a man who spends his days behind the wheel. Eli Darling has been a bus driver for Dousman Transport for five years. The children and his family are his main motivation.

Darling’s afternoon rush begins just before two o’clock in the afternoon. He has a tight schedule to keep.

In his school bus, there is a lullaby in the background. It’s for his co-pilot, who’s sleeping at work.

“It’s Jameson. He’s almost 10 months old,” Darling said of her youngest son, who accompanies her most days.

Five of Darling’s eight children travel her route, which is a welcome perk of the job.

“I also spend a lot of time with my children during the day,” he said.

The first stop in the afternoon is Kettle Moraine Middle School, where her son, Carson, boards the bus.

“Come on, mate. Go ahead and sit down,” he said, taking Carson’s musical instrument.

But it’s not just her own children that motivate Darling to be so committed.

“There are children who have different difficulties in life. I myself have two children with autism,” he said.

He’s quick with a greeting when the kids get on the bus.

“I have Starburst. You want Starburst,” he asked.

Darling makes sure the kids know exactly where to be at the start of this new school year.

“They moved me here now. So this will be my new place every day,” he explains as the kids start looking for his bus.

After middle school, he picks up the kids from Magee Elementary School.

“So for primary school, I ask each child if they have a few favorite songs that are appropriate,” he said. “I’m going to play them for them, I make a playlist for elementary school and the same for middle school.”

Darling also makes sure to reach out to the parents of all her students.

“I give them my personal phone number, if they need to talk to me after hours or anything. If there’s an issue that I didn’t know about, I want to hear about it right away,” did he declare.

It’s part of being connected in a small community.

“Everyone here knows everyone. Everyone here helps everyone,” Darling said.

Darling has been driving for Dousman Transport for about five years.

“Eli is one of the first people here,” company president Larry Kirkley said.

Kirkley said Darling’s positive attitude stands out.

“It takes a special person. It takes the right person to hop on a gigantic school bus, with 60 kids behind you,” Kirkley said. “It takes the right kind of person with a particular kind of patience and tolerance.”

In some ways, his work behind the wheel is a continuation of his service to the community. Darling is a retired sailor.

“Six years old. I was 87 to 93. I was in Desert Storm. Combat, I was a wireman in the Marine Corp, which does communications, pretty much,” he explained.

He also co-owns a bakery at Genesee Depot called All the Crumbs Cookies, which he started with his wife.

“Our business keeps growing, we ship across the country,” he said with obvious pride. “The specialty of our shop – the customer is practically allowed to design their own cookie.”

It’s an idea that started – you guessed it – with kids.

“It started at home. We were bringing treats for kids to school, for teachers, teacher appreciation week,” he said.

Marine, baker, bus driver… who is already looking to the future.

“That’s what I want to be able to do one day. I want to be able to see the kids I had pass on their kids and be their bus driver,” Darling said.

Dousman Transport is looking to hire more drivers. For more information, just visit their website.