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Driver makes trips special for DAC riders

Celebrating Twins and dressing up for the holidays all part of the job for Heartland Express driver.

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Verna Dormanen got off the bus wearing her Twins jacket. Heartland Express driver Michael Barr decorated the bus to celebrate the Twins' division win. The red balloon was one of several decorations on the bus, all hung where the riders, like Naomi Butcher, could enjoy them but they didn't interfere with Barr's view of the road. Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.

Riders on Michael Barr’s Heartland Express route to the Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) in Park Rapids Wednesday had a surprise waiting for them.

His wife, Kim, said, “He enjoys what he does, and he enjoys the riders even more. The riders are all big Twins fans, so Michael always makes sure he knows who won and what happened in the game so he can banter with the riders. He told them that if the Twins won their division he would decorate the bus. Well, they won, and he decorated like he promised.”

The idea for decorating the bus started with rider Verna Dormanen.

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Verna Dormanen got off the bus wearing her Twins jacket. Heartland Express driver Michael Barr decorated the bus to celebrate the Twins' division win. The red balloon was one of several decorations on the bus, all hung where the riders, like Naomi Butcher, could enjoy them but they didn't interfere with Barr's view of the road. Lorie Skarpness/Enterprise.

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“About four months ago, when the Twins started doing pretty good, we were talking and I said if either the Twins or the Cubs do good we’ll decorate the bus,” Michael said. “The Twins started getting closer and closer. She kept reminding me I had to decorate the bus. They finally made it to the playoffs, so I picked up streamers and Twins balloons and had it ready to go for my route Wednesday.”

That route includes DAC clients from Laporte, Akeley and Nevis. Riders got off the bus with smiles on their faces, many also wearing Twins gear.

“I love my job,” Michael said. “You can bring joy to their day just by singing along to a song. I like keeping it fresh and fun. A lot of these riders have been riding for many years. I’m one small piece in the puzzle to make their day better.”

Michael has been driving for the Heartland Express for over 10 years. He starts picking up passengers at 7 a.m. in Laporte and arrives in Park Rapids around 9 a.m.

He said the favorite part of his job is the opportunity to interact with passengers.

“I’d like to give a shout out to all public transportation and school bus drivers,” he said. “We have to be aware of traffic, road conditions and everything else to make it safe for everybody.” Michael said that before becoming a bus driver, he worked in the maintenance department at RDO for many years.

Holidays are another time Michael is sure to do something to make his riders smile.

“I think it’s so special and that he dresses up in goofy get-ups, like elf hats or Halloween costumes,” Kim said.

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“It gets them laughing and is the talk of the bus for a few days,” Michael said. “Let’s face it, not everyone has a good day. So it’s up to me to help make it the best day for them that I can. A lot of times they come off the bus laughing.”

He said his DAC riders are like family in some respects. “They let me know in their own way when they are having fun,” he said. “The majority are in a group home or living with their families. The families are appreciative that the bus ride is fun.”

Mike is originally from the north side of Chicago and grew up rooting for the Cubs, but said if the Twins continue their winning streak, he will be celebrating again with his riders. “I am planning to contact the Twins to see if they will donate something to my riders to keep the celebration going,” he said.

Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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