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Monday, November 24, 2014

Hope Quaintance, the bus driver

Quaintance brought in candy for students on the Friday before Easter.

May 6, 2014

Hope Quaintance doesn’t miss an opportunity to say good morning. When students pile into her bus at the Student Center, looking for a ride to the Trowbridge parking lot, she expresses the sentiment over and over again, never missing a single person.

Today, the 49-year-old Columbia Transit operator is in a particularly good mood. Her great-granddaughter, Amirah Williams, was born last week and she can’t wait to tell everyone about it. She even brought along a picture of the newborn baby sleeping in a light blue onesie.

Before Quaintance starts to drive, she steps away from the steering wheel for a moment, holding up the photo for everyone to see. She says how happy she is to have her first great-granddaughter. She jokes about the baby’s pudgy weight of 5 pounds, 3 ounces.

“That baby...” she says, shaking her head. “She loves to eat!”

Quaintance has always loved sharing her life with the kids on her bus. She often brings up her three children — the first of whom she had when she was 15 — as well as any of her seven grandchildren. She wants to learn about the students on her bus, too, asking, “how are you this week?” far too many times to count.

Sitting behind the steering wheel, Quaintance talks about the students as if they’re her own children, fawning over their positive attitudes and accomplishments on campus. She says she’s inspired by them, adding they’re the reason she’s fallen in love with her bus route.

“As long as I’m around them, I’m going to grow,” Quaintance says on this Friday morning. “It’s the perfect job.”

Falling in love with the job

Quaintance knew she was in the right line of work when she was hired by the City of Columbia in December of 2012. She had never had a position she wanted to stay in for more than a year, but sitting in the front of the large blue bus, she felt at home.

In the role of the bus driver, Quaintance discovered she could brighten others’ days through simple conversation — something not entirely new to her.

“I show love … that’s just my character,” Quaintance said. “I love people. I love helping people.”

Ever since she was a little girl, growing up just miles away from the MU campus, Quaintance has considered herself a giver. She’s always been the one to cook dinner and wash dishes after meals. For the past three years, Quaintance has even decided to celebrate her birthday by spreading love to strangers, providing food and cake for anyone in Douglass Park.

Her philosophy is pretty simple: be kind. You can never really understand what a person is going through, she said, so it’s always better to treat everyone with courtesy and respect.

“You don’t want to ever hurt anybody — you don’t want to do that,” Quaintance said. “There’s just too much to give.”

Working as a bus driver, Quaintance has been able to connect with students. She makes a point of talking to every student, inquiring about everything from activities on campus to social lives.

“I give my love to these kids like I would my own,” Quaintance said. “And somewhere out there in this world, where my kids are, someone’s gonna love them just the same.”

A year and a half into her employment, Quaintance has become known by students as the bus driver who puts in a little extra. She’s the bus driver who says goodbye at every stop, frequently brings in homemade fudge and smiles all day.

On the Friday before Easter, Quaintance decided to bring in candy for her passengers, restocking a table in the front of the bus at every opportunity. She went to Walmart the day before and purchased enough sweets for all the students who get on her bus.

The students, whom Quaintance refers to as “kids,” need that kind of personal touch, she said. They’re away from home, and many are going through difficult, stressful times.

“When you’re away from your loved ones and someone reaches out in a genuine (way), it makes you feel good,” Quaintance said. “It lets them know that someone does care, and it encourages them. It gives them strength.”

But more than anything else, Quaintance is inspired by the kids on her bus.

Watching students walk to classes every day, as well as pile into her bus, she said she has remembered why it’s important to have goals and dreams. Since starting her job, she has pursued old interests like composing music.

“I feel like I’m not too old to hope again,” Quaintance said.

And in her job as a bus driver, she only wants to serve the people who have inspired her.

“Somewhere out in this world, they’re gonna make a difference — I really believe that with all of my heart,” Quaintance said. “Why not serve the people that are going to be serving you?”

Falling in love with Quaintance

It was a pretty dismal morning for senior Kayli Breitweiser. Even though she had stayed up the night before studying, she knew she got a bad grade on the test earlier that day. On top of that, the winter morning was especially bitter, and Breitweiser was in no mood for the cold.

But when she got on her bus, looking for a ride back to Bearfield Properties off campus, Quaintance complimented her winter hat with the big floppy wolf ears.

On that dreary winter morning, it was just what Breitweiser needed.

“To have someone interact with you when you feel so defeated is so nice,” Breitweiser said. “To have an adult kind of come up and talk to you and compliment you … it makes a difference.”

Breitweiser, who got a commuter pass at the beginning of the year, has picked up on the little things Quaintance does to cheer people up.

She’s noticed that Quaintance is only in her seat when she’s driving, spending the rest of the time wandering the aisles. She’s noticed the fun temporary tattoos on her face that seem to change constantly. She’s noticed the heartfelt apologies Quaintance offers when she’s unable to get a passenger somewhere on time.

“When I see her, I’m like, ‘Great, Hope’s the bus driver,’” Breitweiser said. “She’s always just so nice, and really, really interacts with everyone.”

On the Friday before Easter, Breitweiser saw the table of candy. Overwhelmed with the kindness of the simple act, she took a picture of the display and posted it to the popular student Facebook page Overheard at Mizzou.

As of press time, the post had 140 likes, as well as six comments about Hope.

Junior Justin McNeeley commented that she is “so sweet to everyone” and “deserves to be recognized.”

“She cares about everybody,” McNeeley said. “She really sets an example that no matter what your profession is, no matter what your career is, as long as you have a positive attitude and are happy where you are, then it shows.”

Quaintance’s upbeat spirit rubs off on passengers, McNeeley said. It’s always easy for him to notice her energy, sitting behind the steering wheel and talking to anyone in her vicinity.

McNeeley, like Breitweiser, just wishes more people could have the attitude of Quaintance. The bus driver has positively impacted McNeeley’s life through nothing more than her spirit.

“When we get on that bus, we’re happy to be where we are,” he said. “I think it affects us.”

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