Friday, February 11, 2011
Clarion Ledger (Jackson, MS) Rankin County students, teachers, colleagues mourn bus driver
On cold winter mornings, Mr. Henry would come to work early and crank all the vehicles so they would be warm inside when the other bus drivers arrived. And when he battled cancer and underwent chemotherapy, Mr. Henry continued to ride the bus with "his children" on the days he felt well enough, even when another driver was behind the wheel.
Henry Wiltcher, a man who told others his mission was to be of service to the world, did it by driving a bus.
He died Thursday after spending more than a decade as a Rankin County School District driver, and he is being mourned by teachers, students and colleagues.
Neighbor Brenda Perry has shared Brandon's Avalon subdivision the past four years with Mr. Henry, who drove the bus for her children Ryan, 11, and Abby, 6.
"Every year, he would send out birthday cards and put a $5 bill in them," she said.
"At Christmas time, his wife made little ornaments and gave out refrigerator magnets with "hugs" written across them and sweet little things like that.
"And a couple of years ago when they split the bus route, many children cried because they didn't get his route. I cried when I heard he died."
Many were overcome with sadness at Highland Bluff Elementary, a K-5 school with about 700 students where Mr. Henry last worked.
Bookkeeper Cindy Freeman said he always remembered her daughter's summer birthday.
"He would call her up and say, 'It's our girl's birthday,'" she said through tears Thursday morning.
Cher Switzer, a kindergarten assistant teacher, said her son, Taylor, rode Mr. Henry's bus about eight years.
"My father passed away two years ago with cancer, and Mr. Henry had been diagnosed before," she said. "He had so many encouraging words for me and my son. He took him aside and told him how wonderful heaven would be.
"We had a little bit of heaven on this earth while he was here."
The school sent a letter home to parents to let them tell their children about Wiltcher's death, but some had already heard, said Diana Momberg, school counselor.
"We will have some counselors available (today) to handle the kids," she said.
Wiltcher, 75, attended Hollandale High School. He farmed for a while, sold tools for a while, and later became manager and part owner of Leland Tire Service, where he pumped gas, checked oil and fixed flats for country farmers. When he retired from the service station, he moved to Brandon and became a bus driver.
Wiltcher married his second wife, Louise, in 1977, and their blended family included seven children.
After battling several rounds of throat and neck cancer, including a recent recurrence, he died from complications due to pneumonia.
"He touched everyone he was in contact with, even the nurses at the hospital," said his daughter, Lynn Broussard.