Dwight Miller, special kids: Cedarburg area bus driver known for kindness.
Kindness and patience are the virtues held by those we consider good people in this world, and for former Cedarburg resident and bus driver Dwight Miller, those words certainly ring true.
Miller had been serving as a bus driver for the Cedarburg School District driving special needs kids to and from school every day, and volunteered with Friendship Ministries and as a Big Brother in Big Brothers Big Sisters. He recently retired from the role to move with his wife to Ohio to be closer to his son and grandchildren, who are currently living there.
Miller was also recently nominated for the “Be A Good Neighbor Contest” by his neighbor, Susan Grosskoph. She won a private hometown screening of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” a documentary about the life of the former TV host Fred Rogers — better known by those who watched as “Mister Rogers” — for her nomination of Miller.
“Many of you know of his kindness as a bus driver for Riteway because you worked with Dwight or you were a student or family member of his beloved kids,” Grosskoph said prior to the movie screening in Cedarburg July 23.
“Bus driver doesn’t describe what Dwight did and the impact he made every day,” Grosskoph said. “Parents knew their children were in the best hands when they left for school and when he returned them home. He waited, (probably longer than he should have sometimes) for the student who just couldn’t quite get going in the morning. He was singing songs, decorating the bus with monthly themes, and quietly mentoring from behind the wheel.”
Miller was surprised at the amount of support he received at the screening from friends, people he knew, and the kids he transported and their families.
The mayor had even declared the day of the movie showing Dwight Miller Day.
“That was quite a surprise. I didn’t know that was coming at all,” Miller said.
Becoming a bus driver
Miller grew up on a dairy farm in Greenbush, in Sheboygan County, helping out his father on the farm for the first 40 years of his life.
In 1999, Miller and his wife moved to Cedarburg, as his wife worked in Milwaukee and was tired of the long commute from Greenbush. At first, Miller said he didn’t know what he was going to do.
One day, he saw an ad from Go Riteway looking for a bus driver in the Cedarburg School District and applied for it and got the job. It was part-time, and he also took on a job with a neighbor who ran a landscaping and trucking business along with a farm of his own.
For the first two years, Miller drove the regular school bus with kids that weren’t special needs. He noticed that at the high school, the special needs bus parked in front of him and figured he would lend a hand.
“Rather than just sitting in the bus and watching them load, I would go up and help get those ones in wheelchairs on the bus with the other driver up there,” Miller said.
Miller then signed up for some field trips to places like the grocery store to teach special needs kids life skills. Some of them had wheelchairs that had to be strapped in, and Miller realized he wasn’t trained for that. The other bus driver said the company could give Miller training in handling the students in wheelchairs.
The next year, Miller acquired a wheelchair route in the Germantown School District. After some time, Miller saw an opening for driving the special needs bus in Cedarburg and decided to take the job.
“I just enjoyed (working) with the special needs kids because I get to get out of my seat and walk around rather than just sitting there,” Miller said.
Working with the kids
As a service to the parents of the special needs children he drove, Miller would meet with the parents and their children at their homes before the school year started as part of the dry run he was required to do for his bus route.
With early childhood children and their families, he at first encountered reluctance from the parents due to their kids being so young. Miller did his best to make parents feel comfortable by giving them the option to come with their kids on the bus during the dry run.
“I just care about kids because I think I was raised that way, and my parents cared about other people, too,” Miller said. “God has been part of my life, too. He cares about me, and I need to show that to others.
“I just enjoy it. Parents are appreciative of it. It’s a two-way street. You work with somebody and enjoy what you’re doing, and they see that you enjoy what you’re doing and care about them, and they care about you, too.”
The impact of Miller’s kindness and patience has not gone unnoticed.
Melissa Miller (no relation), a special education paraprofessional in the Cedarburg School District, said she witnessed firsthand how kind and caring Miller was as a bus driver.
“The kids loved him and the parents were confident that their kids were in good hands,” said Melissa Miller. “He would decorate the bus for different special days, which made it fun for the kids.”
Melissa also noticed the work Dwight had put in at Friendship Ministries, where he served as a volunteer for the past 10 years, and always helped in leading the group’s closing prayer.
“He makes every person in the group feel accepted and loved. We are all so blessed to have him as a friend and I think that we are all better people for having known him,” Melissa said.
MaryJo DeFlorentiis, whose daughter, Katie, had Miller for a bus driver, said Miller is a genuine, kind and loving human being.
This year, Katie graduated from Cedarburg High School, and Miller decided to give her his Brewers hat that he wore everyday as a gift. Katie would often take the hat off Miller, put it on and then give it back to him.
“It was very sweet, and she cherishes it,” DeFlorentiis said.
Miller said he will miss his former role.
“It’s been an enjoyable ride for 19 years driving the school bus for Cedarburg, and about 17 years with the special needs kids and the other kids,” Miller said.