Two decades of Socorro athletes have been greeted by bus driver Bernice Anaya’s smile.
Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain

After two decades of piloting children across New Mexico, Socorro’s award-winning athletic bus driver, Bernice Anaya, is hanging up her keys.

“I’ve been driving a school bus for 23 years. Athletics, I probably didn’t start until 2003. We had another driver that was doing athletics, and I would just substitute once in a while, whenever they needed me,” said Anaya.

It’s been more than just a driving career as Anaya has served as an auditor, mom, comedian, comedic audience, sports fan, crocheting educator and bus driving instructor. There have been more than a quarter million miles and maybe even more in the many yards of yarn that Anaya has worked into countless gifts for family and friends.

The crocheting developed to honor her grandmother, who passed away from an illness before Anaya began to appreciate the skill. It’s a way of being a little closer to her loved one while passing away the hours as the boys and girls junior varsity and varsity teams battle it against their opponents.

“I have made quite a few things. I’ve taught quite a few kids how to crochet on trips. They’re like, I want to learn, and I’m like, here’s a hook. I say this is how to start this. Do it, take it apart, and do it again. Take it apart,” Anaya said.

The work of Socorro’s athletic bus driver is always on the road and out of town, and sometimes she’s the only Socorro fan in the visiting stands. What started as a substitute aide in the Socorro school system blossomed into Anaya being the state’s top school-employed bus driver and a trip to a national competition in New York City.

“I competed in the state’s school bus competition rodeo,” Anaya said. “I got to go to New York City. We stayed where all the trains gathered in New York City. I had my first flight ever in my life, and I went cross country. They had the competition in the parking lot of the Mets baseball stadium.”

The trip also helped Anaya develop her parallel parking skills. It also developed her passion for teaching other drivers and even bringing the bus-driving rodeo to the county level.

“I brought that (bus rodeo) down to Socorro, and Magdalena has done a bus rodeo. It’s not even a quarter of what the rodeo is at the state level. I still have my plaque and trophy from the state competition. It was very interesting, and the other drivers gave me pointers on parallel parking a bus that came in handy when parking in downtown Albuquerque during the summer science program.”

Being Socorro’s athletic bus driver can be a little hectic sometimes; the job can call at the drop of a hat. Schools change their schedules for several reasons, and what wasn’t on the schedule one morning may mean a trip out of town that afternoon.

“One day, I was at church, and they were all over the place looking for me because the boys scrimmage in Gallup had changed. I was walking back from church, and then suddenly, my bus came up, and they were saying we have been trying to get ahold of you. Can you go?” Anaya said.

She went, and Anaya has been hundreds of times and her daughters are still working at totaling up her mileage. Anaya kept track, but a hard drive failure along the way called for hand calculation.

“From 2005 to the present, my mileage is just shy of 277,000 miles. We don’t have the figures for 2000 through August of 2005,” Anaya said.

Given the length of the road trips and their number, Anaya has driven more than 300,000 miles in either Blue or Morris, the two sport-themed buses that tout the mighty Socorro Warriors’ presence in towns across the state.

Given Socorro’s school colors, the name Blue is obvious, but the newer Morris came by its name due to a mystery that still hasn’t been solved—the bus chirps.

“It has this Morse code sound in it. You’re driving down the road, and you’ll hear like a beep, beep like a little whistle sound,” Anaya said. “We don’t know what it’s for. We don’t know where it’s coming from. I’ve taped mirrors. I’ve taped what I thought might be a sensor. The bus has its personality.”

Anaya has a fun-loving personality to match as she explains about one caper involving some late soccer coaches and players who were all too willing to join her in a little harmless prank.

“I was taking the boys soccer team out of town, and we were all loaded up except for the coaches who were late. We should have already left, but they weren’t there,” Anaya said. “We parked behind the school, and the boys called the coaches. ‘Where are you? We’re leaving. Bernice is leaving. She said she is going to coach us today.’”

Why the coaches were late was never revealed, but the prank did have a positive effect.

“I didn’t ask the coaches why they were late, but they were never late again,” Anaya said.

Anaya had planned a nice and quiet slip into retirement, but when head football coach Damian Ocampo heard this would be her last year driving the athletic bus, he made sure she knew how much she meant to him and his players.

On Socorro’s senior night, Anaya was honored by the entire Warriors football program and posed for a team photo.

“I wasn’t even going to the game because I actually had the night off. I had just come in from another trip,” Anaya said. “But my husband (who works on the first-down chain crew) insisted I go because it was senior night.”

It was special being honored by the team, but what plucked at Anaya’s heartstrings the most was seeing tears in the eyes of football players as they thanked her for many years of service.

“They came up to me, and it made me realize that I really have touched some of them and was important to them,” Anaya said.

At the recent state track and field meet, Socorro athletes were begging Anaya to stay just one more year, but she is sticking to her guns and has already filed the paperwork for her semi-retirement. She will still be around to train bus drivers and potentially fill in on school routes, but no more long road trips.

“I’ve got lots of projects I have been wanting to do, and I have grandkids now, too,” Anaya said.