◆ When asked to share his funniest story, he quipped, “I don’t dare put it in ink.”
Nearing completion of his 32nd year as a bus driver for Lincoln County School District No. 2, LaDell Heiner will retire in May 2021.
LaDell was born in Afton and raised in Bedford. His parents, Ralph and Gwen Heiner, ran a dairy farm and raised their four sons, who all live in the Valley today. “We had all the opportunities in the world. Dad made sure of that. We worked hard and played hard.”
“I liked everything about my youth,” LaDell told SVI. “One time, I rode Dad’s horse from home down to just north of the church [about 2 ½ miles]. The Town of Bedford had a 24 th of July rodeo. I met up with my friend Roger Preston and some other friends and we had a lot of fun that day. I was probably 13 or 14 when I did that.”
The only time LaDell has been out of the Valley for very long was in service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to New York City. He served in New York during the Vietnam War, but was never drafted because the war concluded before he was called up.
Lamar Jenkins, Dan Heiner and Mark Heiner were his close friends at that time. “Back when Vietnam was going on, they would only let one missionary per ward go every six months. Mark was the oldest one [of us], a month ahead of me. Dan was the second one, older than me by three days, and then me. One of the other wards let us have their [mission allowance]. So, all three of us got to go on missions.”
Following his mission in 1971, LaDell purchased a piece of land in Freedom and began farming. Soon after his land purchase, he married his wife Barbara, and they have raised nine children on their dairy. He has devoted his life to his family, that land and transporting the students of LCSD No. 2, which allowed him to provide medical insurance for his family.
“I used to milk the cows and then drive the bus and come back and take care of things. Then at night, I would drive the bus and then we would milk and start over the next morning about 4:30,” LaDell said. “And our kids all helped. They all did their chores. Even after their wrestling practice, they would come home and help milk the cows and feed and everything. They know how to work.”
Driving the bus early in the morning is one of LaDell’s favorite places to be. Another of his favorites is Cheetos. You know you are on LaDell’s bus if there’s a bag of Cheetos stashed above the driver’s mirror. Buses didn’t have radios or cell phones or GPS on them when he started driving. If you got stuck or broke down, you were on your own to find a solution to the problem. “Now, they have us on sonar,” LaDell joked. “They can tell where you are and how fast you are going and the color of our face.”
There was one time he was very grateful for the radio. On his morning route, many years ago, “One of the other drivers radioed me and said ‘There has been a car wreck right here beside me. The car landed in the ditch.’ I was a half-mile away on another road and he said, ‘LaDell, they are your kids.’ I turned back down the Freedom road and helped my own kids get out of that mess and sent them to the hospital. They all survived even though they totaled my truck. But that was hard to hear. ‘LaDell, they are your kids.’” He considers that his worst experience while at the wheel of his bus.
When asked to recount other memorable drives, LaDell chuckled. “I have funny stories and I have sad stories.” When asked to recount his funniest story, he quipped, “I don’t dare put it in ink. I don’t dare have the second funniest written down either, so we would have to go to the third.” He recounted the third funniest story exclusively off the record. He admires the kids who have kept him laughing.
“I had a little girl who was in the second or third grade,” LaDell recounted. “She came up to me one time and asked me about Roman numerals. They had talked about it in school. So, I taught her Roman numerals. In the next day or two, she came back to me and she had written Roman numerals up to 1,000.
She’s a senior this year. I could hardly remember myself, but I told her the principle and how it works. She’s no dummy. She’s my neighbor down the road here.” He has enjoyed building fun and meaningful relationships with the kids who have ridden his bus – some of them for their entire school experience.
“I’ve had lots of kids like to talk. It’s like you’re a counselor sometimes, being a bus driver – at least it was for me. I counseled lots of kids, middle school kids, on life and what it’s all about. I enjoyed counseling them and I am still friends with several of them. I just loved being with them. We had a good time.”
Life will slow down for LaDell and Barbara now. He’s worn out one boat lake fishing and is enjoying a second one. He’s spent lots of time snowmobiling and would like to just take some time doing what he loves best, which is spending time with Barb. They look forward to following their 38 grandchildren. Since they sold their dairy cows in 2013, nothing is stopping them now from taking a few drives together in something much smaller and more intimate than the bus.