It’s three o’clock in the morning in late January. The phone rings on Carol’s side of the bed and it is Betty, who works for the Beiber Bus Company. The Kutztown Area School District contracts its busing from Beiber, along with a couple of buses that it runs itself. Betty informs me that there is a bunch of snow on the ground. I tell her to meet me in fifteen minutes in the bus garage for our run out to the 100 square miles of the Kutztown Area School District.
I seem to be the only superintendent of schools dumb enough to go out on the road this early in the morning to make a personal inspection of the roads. Most others relied on the state police and the Department of Transportation, as well as the weather radio to make those decisions. For some reason, still unknown to me today, I did not trust any of these sources. By the time I started doing it in 1977, I was not very popular with my cohorts on this subject. I didn’t care. I wanted to see for myself what was doing.
Anyway, being out on the road at 3:30 in the morning was a glorious way to start the day. Betty drove a Jeep through Kutztown to all of the little burgs in the school district- Monterey, Maxatawney Township, Bowers, Greenwich Township, Klinesville, Lenhartsville, Krumsville, Kempton and at the base of Hawk Mountain. The custodian of Hawk Mountain was always teed off at me for not calling off school more often. It was always icy and miserable up that high, while the rest of the school district was pretty clear.
Sometimes, we would meet, my old pal Lester Meck, plowing the Albany or Greenwich Elementary Schools parking lots. We would plan our treks from there to the other parts of the townships to see if the township supervisors had cleared the roads. One time, the roads in Greenwich Township were not cleared by 5 o’clock. I called the supervisor’s home and got his wife on the phone and she told me that her husband was already out there. I knew it wasn’t true and heard loud snoring at the other end of the phone. I said, “ Either your husband is still in bed with you, or you are sleeping with another man.” I then hung up. The roads began to be cleared within the half hour.
It was always a crapshoot to open or close schools. You pissed off half of the people, no matter what you did. There was one teacher in the school district who disagreed with me, no matter what I did. One snowy morning, I knocked at his door at his home at about 3:30 and asked if he would like to help me make the decision. He declined. I did not make a friend that morning.
The positive thing about being the only one, was that I could then let the other supes in the area know what the roads were like. There were four school districts in the Eastern part of Berks County and we all kind of agreed that we would not take the chance and do something different. Jim Gilmartin of Hamburg would call me at home when I got in and ask me how things were. Since Carol always answered the phone, they became good friends at about 5:00 in the morning.
One morning when I had returned with Betty to the bus garage, I made my call to the radio and t.v. stations to tell them yay or nay. I also called my secretary, who would start the chain of phonecalls to teachers and other staff. After the phonecalls, I sat down and had a cup of coffee to warm me up. I had on winter clothes a raggedy hat and boots. I pretty much looked like one of the bus drivers. That day I did not call school off. The drivers started drifting in complaining about the road conditions and the fact that Hillman ( an affectionate way that Dutchmen call you) had really made a mistake and was he crazy. I sat there and listened to all the complaints, finished my coffee and said good bye to Betty. In a loud voice, she said “Good Bye Dr. Hillman.”