Vince Knoll, of Ideal Township, is a longtime Pequot Lakes School District bus driver who recently discovered he has only a few months to live. He wished to tell the community his story as a bus driver, so he contacted the Echo Journal.
“I want the people of Pequot Lakes and all of the district to know: Why do we drive a school bus?” Knoll said from his bed at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd.
Knoll, 77, has been driving for Pequot Lakes off and on since 1992. He’s also driven for the Pine River-Backus School District and Reichert Bus Service in Brainerd. Driving bus is what he calls the ideal retirement job.
“I’m the first to get to see kids in the morning and greet them. I greet them each individually,” Knoll said. “These kids get to be just like your own. When they hurt, you hurt with them.”
On Oct. 16, Knoll drove high school music students to the Twin Cities for a musical. Just one month later, Knoll has difficulty sitting up in bed. What he initially thought was back problems he later discovered was cancer in his brain, spleen, spine, bone and back.
One day he could walk, the next day he couldn’t. Doctors believe he’s had cancer for two years without knowing it, Knoll said.
After driving music students to the Cities, Knoll and another driver returned to Pequot Lakes around 2 a.m. The other driver, Clarence “Sammy” Kurowski, cleaned Knoll’s bus because he knew Knoll wasn’t feeling well.
“That’s the kind of drivers we have, and that’s how they care about kids (too),” Knoll said.
Kurowski said by phone that Knoll was a disciplined driver and expected good behavior of the students he drove. When their behavior wasn’t good, he let them know.
“I didn’t let them do whatever they want,” Knoll said. Knoll’s daughter, Kelli Schmeling, said people respect Knoll for that aspect of his work.
While Knoll was a stern bus driver, Kurowski also said he’d bend over backward for others.
Two years ago the Pequot Lakes School Board cut pay to its bus drivers. Knoll made a point of saying he felt what the board did was wrong.
“The board, I don’t think they really realize the responsibility a bus driver has,” he said. “They need to give drivers more money because they’re going to be looking for other jobs.”
Knoll could not say enough good things about the drivers in the district.
“These people are so dedicated,” he said. “You’ve got to be dedicated to be a school bus driver because you’ve got precious lives on board.”
Knoll said he loves the district and the kids, and the teachers are all his friends.
“I’ll never forget them,” he said.
Knoll had a steady stream of visitors at the hospital including other bus drivers, some who have visited daily, and coaches of the teams he drove to games and meets.
Knoll worked for 3M Co. in the Twin Cities for many years before retiring to Ideal Township and living there permanently in 1990. He has four children.
On Nov. 14, Knoll was moved from his hospital room in Brainerd to be with his children in the Twin Cities area. He’ll be with them, in hospice care, for the rest of his life. He’s totally at peace with his situation.
“They gave me three months to live but I don’t care if I die today. I just want people to know how I care about bus driving,” he said.
Knoll’s faith in God is strong.
“When He feels ready, I’m ready to go.”