Brother's gift fulfills Wisconsin man’s lifelong dream to drive a bus (with video)His whole life, Joey Moravchik dreamed of being a bus driver. But being developmentally delayed since birth, that dream seemed impossible — until his brother came through with an unexpected Christmas gift.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
INO, Wis. — When Joey Moravchik was a kid, he couldn’t wait for the Ashland Daily Press to publish the bus routes each fall. He’d clip the list and memorize the names of the drivers and the numbers of their buses.
Twenty minutes after he had studied the list, his dad would quiz him. Joey would know all the drivers and all their buses by number, said his mom, Carol Moravchik of Ino, Wis.
Joey, who’s now 40 and lives in Washburn, loved buses.
“When he started school and he started riding the bus, he liked sitting up front,” his mom said. “He did like the bus drivers. I don’t know whether they took a liking to him or what, but pretty soon it was buses, buses, buses.”
Everyone knew that Joey, who has been developmentally delayed since birth, loved buses. On family vacations, if Joey spied a derelict school bus in a salvage yard, the family would pull over so Joey could inspect it.
“Joey would open the door. We’d all file on, and he’d take us for a pretend ride,” said his sister, Julie Moravchik of Hermantown.
In high school, Joey would clean and wash buses at Lake Shore Buses Inc. in Ashland, which provides buses for the school district.
All Joey wanted to do when he grew up was drive a bus. But because of his learning disability, that wasn’t to be.
“What broke our hearts is that Joey could never be a bus driver,” Julie said.
Video from Christmas morning:
All of that changed on Christmas Day, when Joey walked out behind the silo at the family’s farm near Ino and saw a yellow school bus with a red ribbon on it. It was a present from his brother, Jeff Moravchik, 36, of Ino. And it took the whole family by surprise.
Joey was stunned.
With the family in tow, he stopped in his tracks when he saw the bus and heard its diesel engine idling.
“I went like this,” he said the other day, bringing both hands up to cover his face.
There it was, bus No. 74, just retired from the Lake Shore Buses in Ashland, where Jeff had bought it from his longtime friends Mike and Amy Bochler. Julie rolled video as tears rolled down her cheeks. Jeff’s wife, Sarah, snapped photos.
Joey climbed into the driver’s seat.
“I almost started putting it in ‘drive,’ ” Joey said, “but Dad said, ‘Hold on. You don’t want to run anyone over.’ ”
The passengers climbed aboard.
“He turned right into a bus driver,” sister Julie said. “He opened the door for us. He’d say, ‘All right. You must be seated while the bus is in motion.’ ”
Joey put the bus in gear and headed down the lane. He had found heaven in a hayfield south of Ino. But after several minutes behind the wheel, he turned to Jeff with a question.
“He asked when we had to give it back,” Jeff said. “He thought we just had it for the day.”
Out for a drive
On a brisk January day, Joey was behind the wheel again. He has driven the bus about a dozen times since Christmas Day, Jeff said. He drove the lumbering yellow craft down the lane toward the hayfield, where scant snow cover made for good bus driving.
“Nice and easy on the brakes,” Jeff said, coaching Joey.
Jeff stood up front, watching over his brother, offering advice when necessary.
“Now turn to the right.”
“Now cut ’er left.”
“Go pick up your passenger now.”
A photographer stood in the middle of the field. Joey eased No. 74 alongside him and popped the door open with that flappy pneumatic sound every bus kid remembers. A stop-sign sprang out from the other side of the bus, red lights flashing. The passenger hopped on. Joey swung the door shut and rumbled on across the field, powder snow twisting in the bus’s slipstream.
Jeff had searched the Internet and the Lake Shore Buses in Ashland for nine months to find No. 74. The Moravchik family had drawn names for Christmas at Easter — the first time they’d ever done that — and Jeff drew Joey’s.
“Immediately, I thought, ‘We’re getting a bus,’ ” Jeff said.
But it wasn’t until a week before Christmas that the Bochlers at Lake Shore Buses said they had a bus available. A new school bus can run $90,000, Mike Bochler said. This one had been in service as a backup unit, and the Bochlers knew why Jeff wanted it.
“They gave me a really good deal,” said Jeff, a financial adviser in Ashland. “It was very generous of them.”
The Bochlers knew what a bus would mean to Joey.
“We’ve known Joey for a long time,” Mike Bochler said. “That’s what he loves. When Jeff wanted to give him that opportunity, we wanted to do as much as we could to make it happen.”
The bus is in excellent condition. Its big diesel runs with an eager growl. The paint is fresh.
The big surprise
Shortly after midnight on the night before Christmas, Jeff parked the bus behind the silo on his folks’ farm. He put the bow on its grill.
Early on Christmas morning, when the family always gathers at Carol and Joe Moravchik’s to open presents, Jeff and Sarah had to blindfold the others as they arrived by car so they wouldn’t see the bus as they came in. Sarah drove each arriving family’s vehicle to the house, where they were led inside.
Everyone opened presents inside, and finally, Jeff told Joey his was out behind the silo. The whole family, some still in pajamas, traipsed out there, following Joey.
On the video that Julie shot, Joey was clearly in disbelief when he saw the bus. He gasped and covered his face with his hands, then barreled toward the open door and climbed into the driver’s seat.
Carol Moravchik said doctors haven’t been able to give a name to Joey’s developmental condition. He went to school as a special education student. He lives in an apartment in Washburn now, where community support specialists are with him 24 hours a day. He has worked several part-time jobs. He’s outgoing and friendly, although he sometimes gets frustrated when he cannot do certain tasks, his mother said.
First tractor ride
When he was very young, Carol noticed that Joey didn’t react much to stimulation.
“He didn’t really smile,” she said. “I’d try to do toys, and he wouldn’t do anything.”
One day, he was ready to go to a friend’s birthday party. His dad, Joe, was in the upper field, plowing, Carol said. Joey must have been 1 or 1½. He was ready for the party early, so Carol and Julie took Joey out to the field.
“Why don’t you give Joey a ride on the tractor?” Carol asked Joe. “He (Joey) was just sitting there, plain-faced. When he came back, both Julie and I said, ‘He’s smiling!’ That’s the first time we saw him smile.”
Joey loved the tractor ride, and soon that same kind of fascination was transferred to buses.
That fascination is clearly still intact. He still memorizes the annual lists of drivers and their bus numbers. He can reel off the list.
“Number 42 is Scott Brown,” he said. “Number 43 is Jan Larson.”
And he keeps on going down the list. He can tell you where they park their buses during the day between their morning and evening routes.
One more spin
It would be hard to imagine anyone happier than Joey as he wheeled No. 74 through the snowy hayfield on a January afternoon. He took his work seriously, an intense look in his dark eyes. His passengers included Jeff and Sarah and their 3-year-old daughter, Ava. Bella, the family’s tiny dog, slept on Ava’s lap. Mary Lou Clement, one of Joey’s community support specialists, was along, too.
The bus approached a row of spruce trees.
“To the right, Joey,” Jeff said.
Joey cranked the big black steering wheel, and the bus lurched to the right. He straightened it out and picked up speed. The bus bounced over rough spots in the field. His passengers jostled left and right in their seats, just the way Joey had as a kid, riding No. 9 with the late John Gazdik at the wheel.
Several times, Jeff looked back at the passengers from his spot beside Joey up front.
He didn’t say anything.
He just smiled.