GOULDSBORO — It is the last week of classes at the pre-K to eighth grade Peninsula School in Prospect Harbor. For Danny Mitchell, that means the start of a well-deserved retirement after 35 years driving schoolchildren to and from their homes.
“I love doing it, but it’s getting to be that time,” Mitchell said Tuesday morning after completing his 25-minute run.
Mitchell, 71, has driven since 1983. He started in Winter Harbor, then Franklin, Gouldsboro, and in recent years for Regional School Unit 24. In that time, he has seen the kids on his routes grow up. In some cases, he has even started driving a second generation to school.
Today, Mitchell’s route starts from his South Gouldsboro home, and continues through Winter Harbor, Birch Harbor and Prospect Harbor. At each stop, Mitchell greets the kids as they hop on the bus.
Students of all ages ride Mitchell’s bus. In one row a couple of kids are playing a game of Battleship. In another, they are gossiping about their classes. One shouts there is a bee on the bus, but Mitchell is unfazed.
“There are some actors, but they’re all good kids,” he said. He jokes that he was somewhat of an “actor” himself. Growing up in Southwest Harbor, the local bus driver made a practice of carrying a .30-30 rifle when Mitchell rode the bus. He often walked to school.
In his earlier working life, Mitchell started out with a garbage removal business. He later drove a tractor and then a bulldozer for a living. He eventually bought a house near his property and converted it to apartments. Having some spare time on his hands, he began driving a school bus.
“It started out as something to keep me busy, but it turned out I really liked it.”
Peninsula School’s Principal Sally Leighton says Mitchell is more than just a bus driver.
“He’s such a well-liked and respected part of the school community,” she said.
Mitchell, Leighton added, also is an avid outdoorsman, who will drive students on field trips and then follow along. On science-related outings, he helps them identify plants and animal tracks.
Jason Bricker, an education technician at the Peninsula School, used to ride Mitchell’s bus to the former Gouldsboro Grammar School when he was growing up.
“He was always really funny on the bus. He’d joke about making you sit up at the front of the bus with him if you acted up too much,” Bricker recalled.
In Prospect Harbor, Mitchell pulled into the parking lot of the Peninsula School and opened the doors. The kids spill out and head to class, saying goodbye to Mitchell for the day. The bus soon empties.
“I know it’s time to retire,” says Mitchell, whose last day is Friday, June 15. “But I’ll really miss the kids.”