In the summer of 1987 Lori Alltop saw an advertisement in an Apache Junction newspaper. The ad said that bus drivers were needed for the Apache Junction Unified School District.
Alltop decided to apply. She called the number in the ad and was told to come down the next day and talk to the transportation director.
“I got taken out on a bus ride with the director,” Alltop said. “He told me all about the job, we talked and he said, ‘You’ve got the job.’ I said, ‘I’ve never filled out the application. I just came in to hear about the job.’ I already had another job where I worked from three to 11 (p.m.) and I told him I needed to get in. He said, ‘Here’s the paperwork. Fill it out and come back in tomorrow.’”
And that’s how Alltop began a 34-year career as a bus driver in AJUSD, a career that ended with her retirement on Oct. 27.
“Lori Alltop was a great role model for our staff,” said Transportation Director Maggie Vera. “Her commitment to children, fellow co-workers and AJUSD showed in her everyday duties. She was an excellent trainer, patient, knowledgeable and overall an awesome person.”
Vera said the transportation department would receive calls from parents every year asking that Alltop be their child’s bus driver.
“One thing I would want people to know about her is how much she cared and loved working for the AJUSD transportation department,” Vera said.
She and her husband owned a repair shop, and she often drove the motor homes the shop worked on. Driving the AJUSD bus came naturally to Alltop, who began on the Queen Valley route, transporting junior high and high school students.
Building a relationship with the kids, however, was a bit of an adjustment. Alltop was not yet a mom when she started driving for AJUSD — her granddaughter now attends Desert Vista Elementary — so it took awhile for her to understand that kids can be wired differently.
“I would say ‘hi’ to them every morning and ‘bye’ to them at night,” Alltop recalled. “After a couple of weeks I’m doing all the talking and they’re not saying anything. One day I didn’t do it to see what happened and it was kind of odd. A kid stopped, looked back at me and after he sat down he said, ‘Are you feeling fine today?’ I said, ‘I’m feeling fine. Why?’ He said, ‘You didn’t say anything when I got on the bus and I was wondering if something was wrong.’”
Alltop also discovered that kids sometimes don’t play by the rules, like the time an elementary school girl brought a furry friend onto the bus.
“The kids seemed awfully interested in her,” Alltop said. “They were trying to turn around to see something she had brought on. I said, ‘Is there anything going on back there?’ All I heard was, ‘No, no, no.’
“I found out a few more miles down the road that a friend of this girl’s had brought her a kitten in the morning, and this girl had been hiding the kitten in her purse all day at school. When I pulled over to drop her off, she showed me she had this little tiny kitten.”
Alltop never envisioned on that August 1987 day that she would spend 34 years driving buses for AJUSD. She started driving buses that were stick shifts; none of them — except for the special education bus — had air-conditioning; and she outlasted 12 transportation directors.
“I just kind of hung in there with it,” Alltop said. “I enjoyed it. It fit my niche in life.”
Editor’s note: Scott Bordow is Apache Junction Unified School District’s director of communications and community engagement.
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