Longtime bus driver earned lifelong admiration

Submitted photo In his later years, longtime Forest Lake bus driver Floyd Holzschuh enjoyed working in his garden.
Submitted photo
In his later years, longtime Forest Lake bus driver Floyd Holzschuh enjoyed working in his garden.

A fixture in the lives of previous generations of Forest Lake children has moved on, as longtime Forest Lake Area Schools bus driver Floyd Holzschuh died April 7, two days before his 91st birthday.

In his later years, Floyd and his wife, Carol, lived in North Branch, but Floyd was a community pillar for decades, entering the city’s restaurant business in 1969 before eventually becoming a bus driver, a job he held for almost 30 years.

“(He was) very dedicated,” said Bruce Holzschuh, one of Floyd’s four children. “Whether it was family or work ethic – doing a good job, doing the right thing – he was a straight arrow. In a lot of ways, he was really a simple person, kind of a quiet leader, leading by example.”

Floyd’s character was forged early in life, growing up hardscrabble with seven siblings in St. Paul during the Great Depression. The family didn’t have much, and Bruce believes his dad’s refusal to ever throw anything out – preferring to give it to someone in need or save it for a rainy day – stems back to a childhood where nothing was taken for granted.

“He had, probably from the Depression years, too, he had kind of a mistrust of educated people,” Bruce added, noting that he often heard his dad use the phrase “educated fool” to refer to people like bankers, lawyers and politicians – the kind of people he held responsible for the economic malaise that gripped his family during the 1930s.

Floyd’s brother Richard joined the armed forces shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and, influenced by his sibling and his patriotism, Floyd enlisted in the Navy in 1943, after he turned 17. He never would finish high school.

“He was 18 years old when he was involved with the invasions of Saipan, Iwo Jima and Wake Island,” Bruce said, adding that his dad, who piloted a landing craft and helped transport men wounded on the battlefield didn’t like to talk about his time in the service. He believes Floyd’s sense of humor may have developed as a way to cope with the stress of times in which his boat was shot up or marooned on a coral reef.

“The stuff he would come up with in the blink of an eye was, ‘wow,’” Bruce chuckled, adding that Floyd’s sense of humor was a big part of what endeared him to the kids he drove bus for. “He was genuine, had a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.”

After returning home in 1947 (part of Floyd’s job post-war was repatriating Allied prisoners of war), Floyd married Carol and worked for several years as a meat cutter in St. Paul, minus a non-combat return to the Navy during the Korean War. The family lived in Little Canada, and Carol worked as a manager at Uncle John’s Pancake House in St. Paul. When Floyd’s factory closed in 1969, the family had the option of him remaining with the company and moving to Oregon or keeping on in the restaurant business. They moved to Forest Lake to take over Shraeder’s Cafe, arriving in town right after the downtown fire that destroyed The Forest Lake Times office at the time.

“We didn’t know if we had a place to move to or not,” Bruce joked of the family’s reaction to hearing about the fire on the news.

The Holzschuhs worked in the restaurant field for about eight years, running Wagner’s Hamburger Shop for a few years along with Shraeder’s, which was renamed Carol and Floyd’s Family Restaurant. Eventually, long hours led them to leave the business, and in the late ‘70s, Floyd decided to become a bus driver. Bruce said his dad took to the job naturally, due to his love of children.

“Even when I was a kid, he was Scout leader, he was a little league coach,” Bruce said. “He had a real talent and interest for working with kids.”

Floyd took to the job, and the kids took to him. He was sometimes assigned to tougher routes due to his ability to quell dissent on the bus.

“That was the job I think he ended up enjoying most in his life,” Bruce said, noting that Floyd’s 90th birthday party was attended by many adults who grew up with him as their driver. “He had a way of keeping them in line without having to scream and holler, and he connected with the kids, and they respected him.”

If Floyd ever found ironic the thought of the district’s longest-tenured bus driver being a man who distrusted the highly educated and never graduated high school, he didn’t let on.

“It was more (about) working with the kids,” Bruce said, adding that when he and his siblings were growing up, “(For Floyd,) it was more about working hard and accomplishing than it was grades and schoolwork.”

Floyd retired a couple of times when he was “supposed to” but kept coming back because he loved the work, eventually transitioning from driving routes to doing activity trips, like driving sports teams to their destinations. Failing eyesight finally forced him into retirement about 10 years ago, at age 80. In 2001, the couple’s five-unit apartment, where they lived and rented out the other units, was bought as part of the Cub Foods development, and they moved to North Branch. When he wasn’t driving kids or making a friend laugh, Floyd enjoyed planting trees, hunting and gardening, and he and Carol made sure to spend plenty of family time camping with kids and grandkids in Hinkley.

As a child of Floyd, it was easy for Bruce to see that his dad was well-loved on his route. Every Christmastime, Floyd would return home laden with a variety of gifts from parents and kids on the route. However, it’s a stranger anecdote that sticks with Bruce when it comes to Floyd’s popularity.

One year, on the last day of school, some teens who’d been ferried on Floyd’s bus for many years decided to play a good-natured prank on their former driver by tossing a water balloon at the bus as they drove by in a car.

“The water balloon, at the speed they were going and the speed he was going, ended up taking out his windshield, and he ended up going in the ditch,” Bruce explained.

Rather than laughing or fleeing, however, the teens saw what happened and turned around quickly to make sure Floyd was OK (he was). Bruce said the kids were crying and so afraid that they’d hurt their friend, when all they’d wanted was to play a practical joke. The whole bizarre sequence never would have happened if not for the bond Floyd forged with the district’s kids every school day.

“If they were doing it to be mean, they wouldn’t have come back,” Bruce remarked.

Obituary

Floyd J. Holzschuh, 90, of North Branch, formerly of Forest Lake, died April 7, 2017. He was born April 9, 1926, in St. Paul to Henry and Martina Holzschuh. He was preceded in death by his parents and by siblings Neal (Anna) Harlan, Earl (Mary) Harlan, Ruth (Fred) Milota, Ralph (Betty) Holzschuh, Mabel (James) Williams, and Douglas (Anita) Holzschuh. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Carol; children Bruce (Patty), David, Ellen, and Brian; five grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; brother Richard (Carol); and many nieces and nephews. A celebration of his life was held Monday, April 17, at Mattson Funeral Home. Interment was at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.