- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

HADDAM, Conn. (AP) - A beloved local bus driver is enjoying 15 minutes of fame after a NBC national news show singled out her exceptional service.

When a film crew showed up last month, “To say I was a nervous wreck is putting it mildly,” said Catherine Brutzman, known as “Mrs. B” in the Higganum community.

An exciting whirlwind of days followed her selection as an exceptional bus driver, co-host Carson Daly’s choice as part of the “Today” show’s “Pay It Forward” series.

After Daly began loading his two children onto a school bus every day, he chose to honor everyday heroes like Brutzman, 76, who shoulder enormous responsibility while transporting very precious cargo, often in very challenging circumstances.

The segment highlighted Brutzman’s commitment to work, family and community service.

Brutzman has driven a bus for Regional School District 17, which encompasses Haddam and Killingworth, for 45 years, though for a period of that time she worked as an assistant director, and director, of the department.

Since 2010, Region 17 began subcontracting its school transportation through Student Transportation of America.

As a driver with STA, Brutzman has a “flawless driving record and perfect attendance” and is a member of the company’s STI Safety Wall of Fame, according to the website.

“Her reliability, knowledge, and devotion to the safety and well-being of her student passengers goes above and beyond the call of duty,” said STA’s Chairman and CEO Denis Gallagher in a release. “Her efforts safely caring for generations of schoolchildren is remarkable.”

All of the recent hoopla has been “exciting,” ”amazing” and “tiring,” said Brutzman.

A few weeks ago, an NBC video crew traveled with Mrs. B along her normal route. A nearly six-minute segment includes interviews with her family, a surprise retirement party at the firehouse in Higganum, and a video invitation to New York City from Daly.

The party drew together people from the community, STA, NBC, along with her family and friends.

Brutzman also accepted a plaque from Haddam First Selectman Lizz Milardo, who declared Dec. 11 as “Mrs. B Day.”

During the NBC segment, Brutzman estimated that she’s covered well over a million miles in her decades of driving.

In the segment, a daughter told Daly that her mom is “an awesome role model … if I turn out to be half the woman … it will be a great honor.”

Kids respond to caring; that she knows for sure.

“If you show a child that you care about them, that you care who they are, they respond to you,” said Brutzman. “The control on the bus, everything else falls into place.”

With her retirement imminent, Brutzman can look forward to a free getaway once school lets out- this time for good for Mrs. B. Another great bonus -the cherry on top of this experience- is a trip that NBC presented to her, a resort vacation package for two in Colorado.

All the recent events gave Brutzman the chance to do a lot of reflecting, she said.

“Anyone can drive a school bus with proper training, but the crucial difference, in a really good bus driver, is caring,” she said.

The last-minute trip to NYC included her two adult children, four grandchildren- ages 29, 18, 17, 15 -and one great-grandchild, 3.

The whole family was taken to the Hilton mid-town, near Rockefeller Center, she said. The group enjoyed all the annual holiday tourist fun, like the Rockefeller tree, skating rink, shopping, and fancy window dressings.

All the hustle-and-bustle was a bit too much for Brutzman, who realized, “How fortunate we are to live where we live,” in a small Connecticut town.

Brutzman is confident that after she retires, her bus route will be assumed by another good driver. “We have a good bunch,” she said.

For now, she’ll continue her normal routine of regular early-morning and afternoon bus runs through the end of the school year.

“It’s time. I’m ready to retire,” said Brutzman. “My kids would lock me in the cellar if I keep driving.”

___

Information from: The Middletown Press, https://www.middletownpress.com

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