(Alan Dooley photo)
Nearly half a century of service to their community came to an end Tuesday, when past and current employees of Dehne Bus Services gathered one last time at the company’s building on Mill Street in Red Bud.
Dehne, under the father-son team of Oliver and Ralph Dehne, has sent its yellow buses out to bring children to and from Red Bud schools for 48 years.
But that ended with the school board’s recent decision to enter into a new agreement with Durham School Services starting this fall.
As employees gathered, the smell of pork steaks hung in the air and most brought their own specialty desserts and other food items for the occasion.
Ralph Dehne sat quietly, shifting between sadness at the end of the decades of service to the community and pride in his company’s performance.
“For 48 years, we brought young people into our schools and took them home without a single major incident,” he reflected. “We’ve racked up more than 10 million safe miles in that time.”
Dehne said 232 people have worked for the company through the years – first for his father and then for him.
“We split the years about in half,” he said. “They’ve all been local people – people familiar with Randolph County’s rural roads, their curves, dips and hills.”
Asked what changes his family has seen in the nearly half-century, Ralph Dehne reported several.
“We’ve added buses. We had six in early years and this year we have operated 25 – 13 of them the large buses. There has been an increase in activities – more sports and events that required transportation. And we have seen growth in specialized requirements – services to accommodate special needs students, such as buses equipped to better and more safely serve handicapped students,” he said.
Red Bud School Superintendent Jonathan Tallman said the decision for his district came down to a necessity to accept the low bid in these difficult fiscal times.
“I’ve been here for two years and Dehne has provided impeccable service, at least in my time,” he said.
Tallman said the school board agreed Dehne’s service has been excellent. Board member Dr. Rick Stenzel noted in February that Dehne had provided two generations of superb service with safety as their number one priority, always providing clean, well-maintained buses, too.
“I know we provided a good and safe service,” Dehne said. “I understand the cuts in state funding are making it tough for schools, but new requirements for transportation companies, like long-term insurance, are making it difficult for smaller operators like us to compete, as well.”
So, what does the future hold for Ralph Dehne?
“I guess I am retiring,” he said. “I’ll see what else emerges for me.”
Dehne also reported he is in discussions with Durham over possibly leasing his facilities to them. Durham provided school bus service in Waterloo until a couple of years ago; Illinois Central School Bus provides that service now.