This year will mark the end of an era for Columbia Falls schools as District 6 says goodbye to a pair of longtime employees in bus driver Walt Crawford and mechanic John Anders.
The pair, who have combined for decades of service to the school, are set to retire at the end of this school year.
For the Anders family, it is the end of a legacy. John’s father, Roy, was the Maintenance Supervisor for the district from 1942 until 1976, servicing facilities in Essex, West Glacier, Apgar, Coram, Martin City, Hungry Horse and Columbia Falls. John spent the first 20 years of his life living on school grounds and worked hand in hand with his father from an early age. He jokes that he knows the area schools better than anyone else, crawlspaces and all.
Anders got his first mechanic job at the age of 10, helping local businessman John Bensfield, who owned several shops in Nucleus Ave.
“I was fascinated with mechanics and John couldn’t get rid of me,” Anders said. “I just kept hanging around until he started asking me to help out.”
Over the years, Anders learned to work on a variety of machines, including Harley Davidson motorcycles and even the projector at the Park Theatre in Columbia Falls. His skills eventually took him to Kalispell, where he learned to work on Yamahas, Kawasakis and BMWs, just to name a few. If there was a problem, Anders was there to fix it.
“I was pretty much a troubleshooter. I just went wherever the trouble was and I fixed it,” he said. “I didn’t get to do normal, everyday work. If there was a problem that was weird or complicated, that’s where I always wound up going.”
When the mechanic job came open for Columbia Falls schools in 1986, Anders jumped at the chance to be back in Columbia Falls and closer to his daughters.
“I missed their music programs. I missed the plays. I missed everything. The mechanic job came open and I needed to get back into Columbia Falls, and my boss agreed,” he said. “The best part of the job was getting to watch my daughters go through the school system.”
While Anders has spent the last 33 years working for the school, he says his service his more like 52 years, if you count the time he spent working with his father while growing up. Anders said he dealt with more than his fair share of problems over the years, and he enjoyed every minute of it.
“I enjoy problems and I love solving them,” he said. “Everything has a solution and I enjoy finding them.”
Crawford has been driving buses for the school for 10 years, having driven three separate routes and on many activity trips over that time. After working 20 years at the aluminum plant, Crawford said he took the bus driving job so he could watch his granddaughter play sports, and because the extra money was nice.
Over the years, he drove buses to Martin City and Coram and even up to the North Fork. He also drove a route closer to town, covering Meadow Lake Boulevard and Halfmoon Road.
Crawford says he will miss the activity trips the most, but not the winter driving conditions associated with some of them.
“Anytime you go east in the winter, it seems like you have to go through bad weather,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve been in a couple of really bad whiteouts but the worst was coming home from a basketball game in Butte.”
Both men say they have enjoyed their time at the school and that they look forward to having more time to spend on their hobbies.