They couldn’t find Ruth Steiner’s bus 9, so instead a group of past and present school bus drivers at Vancleave School District decorated bus 10 in her honor.
A driver for 18 years at Vancleave — and bus driver of the year two years ago — Steiner died Sunday at age 74.
The drivers wanted to honor the woman they said did so much for so many, and they hung flowers on the big yellow bus and wrote in the windows, “We love you Ms Ruth” and “Fly high Ms Ruth.”
She drove up to the last day of school and expected to be back again for the next school year, her friends said, and they believe Steiner would be asking why they were making such a fuss.
She was honestly blunt, they said, yet super sweet, so people either were very scared of her or loved her. Either way, the community admired how she carried on despite her fight with ovarian cancer for years. At least twice the cancer went into remission, her friends said, only to return.
“She would do her treatments then drive the bus,” said Susie Cole, who drives Bus 0531. While battling cancer, Steiner also helped take care of her late husband of 53 years, Woodrow “Buddy” Steiner, and her late mother, Cecilia Meyer.
Steiner drove elementary, middle and high school students who lived along Paige Bayou in Vancleave, and had a special relationship with a special needs student who rode her bus for years. “She looked out for him,” Cole said. “She was just that way.”
She kept her bus immaculate, the drivers said, sweeping it out even when she was sick, and was known to tell kids snacking on the bus, “If God made it you can chuck it out the window, but if not it goes in the trash.”
Steiner cared about the students on her bus, Cole said, and gave them little Christmas gifts every year.
They, in turn, looked out for her when she had chemo, said Sheila Baragar, who drives bus 8.
“It’s not going to get me down,” Steiner would say of the cancer, and when she had to take a day off for treatment she’d tell the students and drivers, “OK, I’ll be back tomorrow.”
She didn’t ask for help, Baragar said, yet was so thankful when it was given.
She also was very active at Holy Spirit Catholic Church on Jim Ramsey Road in Vancleave, where a memorial Mass will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, with visitation from 4-5 p.m.
Steiner shared the wisdom life gave her with those she could help. “Anyone needed advice about driving or life or whatever, she was there,” Cole said. Steiner was mother to three sons and Cole said they often talked about raising kids.
She kept a big garden, sold eggs and was a phenomenal seamtress, her friends say. For 28 years she was a seamstress at Josette’s in Pascagoula and for 45 years she sewed and tailored for the community in a little workshop next to her house. Sometimes she had 15 or more projects going at a time, fashioning elaborate Mardi Gras gowns along with costumes and flags for the local band.
“Miss Ruth did all of that,” Baragar said, and with as little as a 5-minute nap, she could recharge and go again.