For many students who take a bus to school, drivers can create a few memories along the way -- and the community of St. Michael says they lost a man who left them with many fond ones on Sunday.
This weekend, Larry Bermel lost his battle with cancer, but he is being remembered fondly by residents who say he was so much more than a bus driver.
"If you talk to any coach and you talk to any team participant, they would all tell you the same thing," said activities director Brian Benson. "It was fun to get on Larry's bus."
Bermel was behind the wheel of the big yellow buses for 18 years. He began driving after a workplace injury ended his career as an iron worker. Even though his family thought he wouldn't last a year in the role, it turned out to be his calling.
"Larry was actually a unique bus driver," Brandon Oudavan said. "He wasn't like any other kind."
In fact, his son told Fox 9 news that Bermel saw his real job as being a positive influence on young kids, teaching them to be more accepting, to treat each other with kindness and to do the right thing, even when it's tough.
"What seemed like normality to us is obviously missing on the world or was found in this man," Chad Bermel, Larry's son, said.
To the kids at St. Michael-Albertville High School, Bermel was a friend, a mentor and their No. 1 fan.
"You could always watch him seeing the matches," Mark Voss recalled. "He'd watch all the events, home or away."
In fact, the former wrestling coach said it often felt like Bermel was actually a part of the team.
"As a wrestling team, we kind of claimed him as our driver," Gregg Breeno recalled. "I'm sure the other teams felt like that too, but we really thought 'Larry is our driver, our guy.'"
To everyone, Bermel was simply "Cowboy Larry." He had a different cowboy hat for every occasion, be it shuttling kids to school and back or taking them all over the state for activities.
"People ask him what he did for a living and he said, 'I'm driving all my children,'" Judy Bermel, Larry's widow, told Fox 9 News. "That was his quote. 'I'm driving all my children.'"
Bermel's family says what made him unique was his ability to speak the truth and mold young minds in the process.
"He always had that cowboy hat and he would always say words of encouragement on the way down," Jake Briggs recalled.
After taking so many children across so many miles and years, the Bermel family is overwhelmed by the number of lives touched by his unique brand of wisdom.
"The kids really respected him," Breeno said. "They wanted to please Larry."
Funeral services for Bermel will be held on Saturday at St. Thomas the Apostle in Corcoran, Minn.
KDFW FOX 4
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