By Benjamin Cohn
Leicester – The end of a storied career is bittersweet indeed. Professional associates, family members, wellwishers and others whose lives were touched by Sandra “Dian” Gosnell gathered Saturday afternoon in Erwin High School’s cafeteria for a catered celebration of her 40 years driving buses for various schools in Buncombe County.
Gosnell’s friends and coworkers spoke proudly of Gosnell’s loving, maternal nature. They remember the endless capacity of love she felt for her passengers because they were her students. She wasn’t just their bus driver; she was their loving caretaker.
Denise Presley, one of Gosnell’s closest confidants, shed light on the retiree’s motivations. Explained Presley, “I’ve been driving 22 years. I know she cares about the kids. She does wonders with them. She does a lot of stuff for kids on her regular runs.
“She helps them get food when they need food, much more than what you would think a bus driver would…do. Our Community high [school] kids are, I guess sometimes you get a little bit more attached to them. They have a lot more issues going on, and she does [get attached to them].
Presley’s voice filled with emotion. “Her heart’s as big as anything. She does care. I think that really, you would not be doing it after 30 years, [if you didn’t care].” Another of Gosnell’s coworkers, Wilma Brown, agreed. “She’s always got a smile on her face. She always does. She really cares.”
Next to offer her thoughts was one of Gosnell’s daughters, Selena Saucier. According to Saucier, her mom started driving her school bus when she was four years old.
“She was my bus driver all through elementary school. It was fun. We knew that we had to behave because we lived with her, too. She really loves kids and really enjoyed taking care of other people’s kids.
“It’s brought [her] a lot of joy.” Asked why she thinks her mom is retiring, she replied that, “It’s probably just that time. It probably has a lot to do with her age. She’s been doing this for 40 years. I think, too, another big reason is because she’s now having great-grandkids.”
Finally, the woman of the hour spoke on her own behalf, trying to summarize a lifetime’s worth of memories in the space of only a few minutes. According to Gosnell, “it was in 1978 when I first started driving. It’s changed a whole lot. My first bus was a straight-drive [manual transmission]. I drove one of those for nine years. They’re all automatic [now].”
She described some of the different routes and schools she drove for during her tenure. “I drove 14 years for Woodfin Elementary and then I drove here [Erwin High] for 25, 26 years. I also…drove for Community High School. I’ve learned how hard life can be for kids. I just love them [Community High students]. They’re close to my heart because I feel they’re mistreated in a way. They feel like they’re outcasts and it’s just really sad for them. They had a lot of…hard problems.”
Gosnell and her fellow drivers described Swannanoa’s Community High School as alternative. From the school’s website, “by offering a reduced-credit diploma, CHS empowers students to reach their academic goals with an alternative pathway to graduation.”
She also described the experience of shepherding her own flesh and blood every day. “I started the year that – I’ve got three girls – they started kindergarten. All the kids used to come to the house and got on the bus at my house. I didn’t pick up too many because all of them got dropped off at my house in Woodfin,” she said, laughing. “All the parents just brought them in. We’d just be barely out of the bed and they’d be bringing them in.”