- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Franklin Delano Longfellow grew up in Dearborn, Mich., with three aspirations.

“There were three things I’d always wanted to do since I was a kid. I wanted to work with lumber. I loved to drive, and I got wanderlust and wanted to be in the military,” he said. “To me, I’ve done all three.”

Big time.

He served in three branches of the military - Army, Navy and Air Force. He worked with lumber, first at the old Thompson Lumber Co. in Champaign and later at the former Wickes Lumber in Tolono. And he has driven a bus for the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District since 1990.

At the age of 80 - he’ll be 81 in December - Longfellow drives long, articulated buses on the MTD’s most demanding routes, through Campustown.

“You talk about defensive driving, that’s defensive driving to a whole, new level,” he said. “There are challenges there with people on cellphones and using iPads and earphones and all those electronics. If you don’t perform properly, you don’t stay on the campus routes. But to me I guess the students make me feel a little younger, too, in terms of association with those 18- and 19- and 20-year-old people.”

Longfellow said his wife of 61 years, Charlotte, has been urging him to retire, and he might be close.

“She thinks I need to enjoy retirement. But by only working a couple days a week, I’ve pretty much got my time,” he said. “Where I used to work five days a week and be off two, now I work two days a week and am off five. I still enjoy it.

“But I have to admit that when you drive 8 hours a day on campus, you come home and you’re my age, you are beat.”

Longfellow said he believes he does a good job at the MTD and feels valued by his bosses.

“I’m alert, I haven’t had any mishaps to speak of and I’ve got a clean record and so it seems to me that the MTD appreciates older, retired drivers. They like to hang onto them,” he said. “That’s one of the pluses about the MTD. If you want to devote yourself to providing customer service and you’re a safe driver, then you’ll be around for a long time.”

For as long as 23 years.

“He’s a cool guy,” said Longfellow’s supervisor, Robb Patton, the MTD’s director of service delivery. “Frank, he’s just been one of the guys who’s been terrific for us.”

Patton said driving the campus routes, particularly the Illini 22, is demanding of any driver, let alone one in his ninth decade.

“You have all kinds of things going on, not just the large number of people getting on and off the buses,” he said. “You have people with all kinds of issues and you have to have some thick skin, as well as an ear for listening.

“And Frank, he’s grabbed on and stuck with it.”

Longfellow said he joined the MTD after his work at a local lumber yard became too much.

“I was working at Wickes Lumber, but I kept wondering why was I doing the job that I had gotten out of a few years before (at Thompson) because it was do demanding,” he recalled. “The ad came in the paper that the MTD needed drivers. That was in 1990. I went in there and filled out an application.

“I was around 56 years old and I was thinking, what are your chances of getting hired on? I got a call and the lady said I had an interview with (MTD assistant director) Tom Costello on Friday the 13th. I said, ‘Friday the 13th? Are you trying to tell me something?’”

But he was hired as a part-time driver, moved to full-time after a few years, and stayed at that status until 1999.

“I was 65 and a half, but I decided I didn’t want to quit outright, that I would continue to work part-time. I never realized, though, that I’d be part-time for another 15 years,” he laughed.

Longfellow’s 22 1/2 years of military service includes a stint with the Michigan (Army) National Guard in high school, 2 1/2 years in the Navy during Korea when he was stationed on an aircraft carrier and, beginning in 1960, time with the Air Force at the old Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. His Air Force hitch also included a year in Vietnam as an aircraft electrical technician.

And yes, he is named for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was president when he was born in 1933.

“Being a Depression baby, my folks thought the world of FDR,” he aid. “And I have to say that I’m from a very patriotic family. My dad was in the First World War. My brother was in the Second World War. My older sister was in the Korean conflict (as an Army tech sergeant stationed in Korea). I entered the service at the end of Korea and my baby sister used to tap dance at the USO.”

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Source: The (Champaign) News-Gazette, https://bit.ly/XYrRUc

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Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com

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