In the 54 years he has driven a school bus in Montgomery County, William "Weedie" McChristion has seen it all -- from segregation to integration to two more consolidations. What started as a way to get a little extra money while still in high school, turned into a large part of who he is and one of the biggest blessings for many who he has bused to and from school.
McChristion said he began driving a school bus for Montgomery County schools in either 1963 or 1964, at the age of 16. He said there were two more men who drove before him -- one was drafted into the Army and the other went to Milwaukee and never came back.
"School was starting that summer, and they [the school] called him and asked if he was driving and he told them he wasn't coming back," he said.
McChristion said Arthur Norwood approached his father and asked if he would drive the bus.
The pay was $75 a month.
"My Daddy told them 'Naw, I don't believe I'd do that. I make that in one day hauling wood."
However, his father asked Norwood if his son could drive.
"He asked how old I was, and my daddy said I was 16. He told him, 'No, you have to be 17.'"
But, the men came to an agreement that if they put the bus in his father's name, McChristion could drive. He said Norwood told his father he would back him.
"He went to the [Montgomery County School Board] President Elmo Branch and told him that I was a good young man, and I was hired. I drove the bus for the rest of the year."
McChristion said he would drive the bus, then get to Duck Hill, and get off his bus to catch the bus to Montgomery County Vocational High School in Kilmichael to attend school.
"Then, when the day was over. The principal would wait for me, and I would go back to school, get off, and then get my bus and carry the children home."
McChristion said the next school year, he was offered the bus route. He said a lot of people wanted the bus route in Duck Hill, but it was given to him.
He said he eventually got the high school route and was able to drive his classmates and himself to Kilmichael and back.
After he graduated high school, McChristion said he bought himself a log truck and began hauling, but before school started back, he was asked again to drive.
"I thought, 'I'm gone, I'm not coming back.' I went to Coffeeville, and I bought myself a log truck," he said.
But, he wasn't gone for long. McChristion said he was asked to drive again for the school. He said he was told he would only have to drive for two weeks because they were attempting to find someone to take over the route.
Fifty-plus years – and retirement later – he' still driving a school bus in Montgomery County.
"That was back in '70 to '71, and that's been the longest two weeks of my entire life," McChristion said, laughing.
McChristion said what keeps him getting on his bus every day is his love for the kids who ride it, and he loves what he does.
"When you love what you do, and you treat people right, the Good Lord will take care of you. If I didn't love my job and all I did was complain, complain, complain then I need to quit and go on home."
At one point, earlier into his career, he said his route included picking up 60 to 65 kids. He went to his mother and asked her how he would handle that many children, while he was still young himself.
"My mother told me, she said, 'Ask the Lord to guide you, and He will.' She told me that I could handle it, and I would be just fine. I never had any trouble, and I think, if I say so myself, I've done a pretty good job. I've never had an accident or injured a kid."
Throughout his longstanding career as a bus driver for Montgomery County School District, McChristion has also hauled wood and worked in maintenance at the bus shop. McChristion also drove the bus for the Winona Separate School District for games and trips.
"I remember when they only had two buses, one for the whites and one for the coloreds. So, if they needed another bus, they would rent one from the Montgomery County School District," he said. McChristion said they would also rent one from those in the community who had buses.
"You can't do that now with the laws being as strict as they are; they won't allow that," he said.
McChristion said he has transported generations of families, including his own, to and from school.
"I took their parents to school, turn around, and I took the grandchildren and even they great-grandchildren," McChristion said.
"And the kids respect him, and he respects them," Charlie Parkerson, operations director for Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District, said. Superintendent Teresa Jackson added the bus drivers also respect him.
"When he talks, they listen," she said.
McChristion said one day he was talking to Billy Ables, and he told him that bus drivers had to be doctors, lawyers, momma, and daddy, too.
"I asked him, 'Why you say it like that?' He told me because if a child gets into an argument with another child, you have to step in like a lawyer and solve that case. When a little kid is hollering and not wanting to go, you have to be momma and daddy to calm that child down. When a student gets sick, or something happens, you have to be a doctor. I've had that happen many a time, too," McChristion said. "I told him I never thought of it that way, but he was right."
McChristion said there has only been one time where he was scared. He said he was on the highway in Winona in the middle of a storm, and it was raining so hard, he couldn't see anything.
"We were in the middle of the highway, and the bus was rocking. It was like white rain, couldn't see anything. I could've flipped, but I thank God we didn't. It rained for three to four minutes, and then, it went away. It was scary," McChrisition said.
McChristion has seen quite a bit during his time as a bus driver. He seen the end of segregation and the integration of the schools. He witnessed the consolidation of Kilmichael and Duck Hill schools into Montgomery County High School and Montgomery County Elementary School, and he was an integral part in the consolidation of the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District.
"How do you think it went?" Jackson asked McChristion.
"I'm going to be honest -- it went better than I thought it would go. It started sort of rough. Y'all had some trouble with the routes and figuring out what kid got on what bus, but y'all fixed that problem, and I think it's going really good," he said.
Jackson said McChristion played a huge part in the consolidation by helping with bus routes and being a familiar face that many were used to seeing.
He's seen quite a few things change over the years in Montgomery County. He said one thing that's changed is the condition of unpaved roads.
"They're sure better than they used to be," he said. "It wasn't anything for a bus to slide off in a ditch. But, they have gotten better, I must say."
He said he's worked for quite a few superintendents including Carolyn Swanson, Dr. Wendy Hubbard, and Dr. Teresa Jackson. Today, as he drives for the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District, McChristion said he enjoys working with the administration, faculty, staff, and students.
"They have treated me nice," he said. "And when you love where you work, you don't mind working there."