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Former APS bus driver connects with kids through new passion

Given health issues Susan McCaskill had to retire early, but that didn't stop her from bring joy into kids' lives.

ATLANTA — A former Atlanta Public Schools bus driver often misses picking up kids every morning, but a new love has helped her stay connected.

It’s easy to take our routines for granted until they change, and we must change too. It was a sudden change in Susan McCaskill’s days that brought on a difficult time.

“I felt lost.” She said. “I got real depressed.”

This is what brought her to buy a sewing machine for her living room in East Point and to sign up for a zoom class to learn during the pandemic.

“It took me to a peaceful space.” McCaskill said. “It helped ease my anxiety.”

Until then, she'd never sown, was more comfortable with big machinery and her seat behind the when of her Atlanta Public Schools bus. 

“I had been driving for 24 years.” She said. “I started on the south side of Atlanta.”

When health challenges forced her to retire early, she needed a new routine to fill days that suddenly felt empty. Sewing helped fill the void. 

“It took about 30 hours to get one quilt to come together.”

McCaskill started making gifts for her immediate family. 

“The first blanket I made by hand for my grandson.” She said. “He took it with him everywhere.”

Then she started to work on gifts for her extended family. Some of the students McCaskill got to know on her bus over the years.

“I told my parents when they step on the first step; those are my babies.” McCaskill smiled. “I knew about their lives and what was important to them.”

The connection with the kids on her bus didn’t end with her route. It’s why her favorite book is always within reach. It’s an album filled with pictures, personal notes, and thank you cards from families over the years. 

“It warms my heart that my babies still remember me and keep me in their heart.”

Ms. McCaskill teared up, looking at the pictures and talking about “her babies.” She wiped her eye. “I look at these pictures a lot; it brings me joy.”

One page is dedicated to the Zufi family in Atlanta. 

“Libby is my girl!” McCaskill laughs. She still has the same sweet heart.”

Libby Zufi remembers McCaskill with the same fondness. 

“She was my bus driver from kindergarten to 5th grade.” Zufi said. “She cared like we were her own kids.” Zufi said when she looks back on her elementary school memories, Ms. McCaskill is a big part of that.

Libby got an unexpected care package as she packed to leave home for her freshman year at the University of Michigan. 

“I opened the box and inside was a quilt, a pillowcase, and my name in pillows.” She says it was a shock. “It was an amazing surprise.”

All made with love from Ms. McCaskill’s house. Libby’s friend received a quilt, too. Libby’s dad was amazed. 

“I was totally blown away.” He said. “It’s very reassuring from a community perspective there are people like that out there.”

Ms. McCaskill has made dozens of other gifts, all personalized. She uses the little money she has left each month to buy the fabric. McCaskill is sending care and support as “her babies" are off to change their routines, too.

“If you even just throw it across your chair and peep at it sometimes, Ms. McCaskill made that,” She said as her voice trailed off, starting to cry. 

They mean a lot to her, and being reconnected has brought joy back into her life.

It means a lot to her students, too.

“I love her and I’m thankful for her.” Zufi said. “I can’t thank her enough for all the love she’s shown me and all the care.”

The pattern of Susan McCaskill’s days have changed. The love never will.


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