After nine years, Ted Quatman is making his final run Tuesday as driver of Bus 327 for students with disabilities at Darlington Elementary School, and he is going to be missed.
Quatman, whom staff at the school call “the world’s greatest bus pop-pop,” planned to retire following Tuesday’s run.
“He’ll hold that title forever,” Brittany Welsh, a para educator at Darlington.
Mr. Ted, as everyone calls him, was waiting for his three fifth-graders — Albert Ball, his “spicy meatball;” Alex Murphy, “my storyteller;” and Anna Sadowski, “my little princess” — to graduate, which they did Monday.
Quatman took advantage of the school system’s $500 incentive this year to submit retirements by Feb. 15, but he and his wife of 53 years, Lynn, donated the money back to the STRIVE program at Darlington during a check presentation at the school Monday.
STRIVE, which stands for Succeeding Together Reaching Individual Visions Everyday, is the name of Harford County’s autism program.
“It was something I was going to do before the incentive announcement,” Quatman said.
He didn’t need any more fishing equipment and Lynn didn’t need 10 more pairs of shoes.
“We felt like it was money that shouldn’t go out of Harford County Public Schools. They’ve been good to me for nine years,” Quatman said.
Carie Sadowski’s daughter, Anna, is one of Mr. Ted’s passengers.
“He’s been wonderful,” Sadowski said. “He knows all the kids, their stories. He looks after them. He’s so very kind and considerate.”
She remembered on year when Quatman and his wife took a Disney trip.
“They brought back Mickey Mouse ears for all the kids. He pulled up and all the kids were wearing ears,” she said.
When a parent tells Quatman their son or daughter had a rough night, or a bad morning, or might have a headache, or may be having a great day, Quatman is sure to relay it to the staff when he drops off his students in the morning.
“Mr. Ted, you’re the greatest. It’s going to be hard to replace you,” Principal Alberta Porter said. “You take care of our kids We know what we’re dealing with the moment we get those kids.”
Quatman has been planning to retire at the end of this year, regardless of the incentive. “Because it’s time, it’s just time,” he said.
After a 31-year career with A&P grocery stores — he got tired of working Saturdays, Sundays and holidays — and a 17-year-career as a warehouse manager with STX lacrosse, he was retired for three months before he couldn’t take sitting around any more.
“[I thought] I could drive a school bus, not knowing I’d have the most lovable kids in the world,” Quatman said. “You learn to fall in love with these kids. It’s not something that wears off. I think a lot about them.”
The first day he pulled into Darlington Elementary he received a better reception that any he’d ever gotten.
“The love, the hugs… these kids are the greatest,” Quatman said, fighting tears.
In retirement, Quatman plans to fish in the spring, summer and fall. In the winter, he said he’ll be back at school “bothering” everyone.
Quatman asked that his donation, a “huge” amount, Porter said, go to the students in the STRIVE program.
She’d like to get something for the students that will reinforce their behavior and interests, like kinetic sand or new helmets to be used with a recent donation of bicycles, she said.
“More things the kids can put their hands on and help that interaction,” Porter said.
Or it could go toward field trips.
Special educator Amy Beighley praised Quatman for coming in to meet her before he started driving the students, something no other bus driver she’s worked with had ever done.
What sets him apart is his concern for the children, their families, their situations, Porter said.
“He’s making sure they’re learning, what he can do to support them,” she said. “He doesn’t touch the children, but he hugs with his eyes, his words, his tone. I love that.”