The Yellow Bus
Unlike most freshmen, I arrived at Aquinas in August, 1959, more than three weeks before classes were to begin. Tom Nye (Class of ‘63) and I had been selected to be football managers, joining Gary Marconi (Class of ‘62) and Domenico Cervi (Class of ‘62) under the direction of George Wolfe (Class of ‘60).
My first day, I noticed the Yellow Bus emblazoned in green on its’ sides with the words “Aquinas College High School”. That, I was told, is how we traveled to our games. The driver was Fr. Francis Clement McKenna, O.P. our Athletic Director. To my eyes, our yellow chariot looked old and worn, even in 1959.
It was amazing that the Yellow Bus held the entire football team and all the extra football equipment. Our football players would suit up at Aquinas and then travel to the games. We traveled in our faithful but seemingly cranky Yellow Bus to our City League games all over the city that season. On long road trips such as Steubenville, Bellaire, and Cleveland, we used a chartered bus, often having another bus for fans.
We never called the Yellow Bus a school bus, for it was more than that to us. It was the Team Bus. The Monday after each game, we swept out the clots of dirt left behind from the football players, and occasionally washed the windows. Often it smelled like a locker room. Fr. McKenna was proud of the Yellow Bus. When it was working just right, his smile was as wide as the State of New York. When it wasn’t, the scow on Father McKenna’s face meant ‘do not talk to him’.
The 1959 East High versus Aquinas football game was a daylight game because Harley Field did not have lights. The game was the climax of the season as pointed out in the 1960 yearbook. Aquinas beat East 29 – 14. It was also a true test of endurance for the Yellow Bus.
A hard fought game, our victory left the East High fans really upset. So upset, that after the Aquinas team got into the Yellow Bus, East High fans started to rock it from both sides. I do mean rock it. We swayed back and forth until it seemed like the Yellow Bus would tip over.
Fr. McKenna was having trouble getting the bus started, and our players were trying to get him to open the doors so they could forcefully calm down the crowd shaking the bus. A few small rocks hit the windows, but Coach Mamajek got the players to calm down before a mini-riot began.
Finally, the Yellow Bus came alive. Fr. McKenna revved up the engine, and we nearly ran over the few disgruntled East High fans that were in front of the bus. Alas, the Yellow Bus held up, and we got out of harm’s way, and so did the angry East High fans.
We also used the Yellow Bus to go on some field trips. One trip to the Battelle Nuclear Reactor near West Jefferson nearly got us killed. The poor Yellow Bus stalled out on the railroad tracks near Battelle, but Fr. McKenna got it running after 5 minutes, before any trains appeared. We thought the Yellow Bus was rebelling from having to go outside Franklin County.
As the scorekeeper for the freshman basketball team, I traveled on the faithful Yellow Bus over the next two years to Junior Highs all over Columbus. In early 1961, during rush hour, we were returning from a game on the west side. Father drove up the Broad St. hill from Front St. to High St. We were in front of the Wyandotte Building when the poor Yellow Bus sputtered to a stop.
Fr. McKenna tried everything possible to get it started, while trying to keep it from rolling backward. Prayer and a couple of invectives failed to start the Yellow Bus. We were blocking traffic. Trolley buses could not get around us, and we had nowhere to go because parked cars were at the curb.
Finally, like a great Captain of a dead-in-the-water ship, Fr. McKenna yelled – ‘everyone out and push’. So the team of 11 guys plus the coach and I jumped out and got behind the bus. Father yelled “push”, and put the Yellow Bus in neutral. It almost flattened us when it started to roll back on us. Then he yelled push, and kept yelling until we eased the Yellow Bus slowly up the hill towards Broad and High.
Luckily, the alert Police Officer directing traffic at that busy corner saw us, and stopped traffic as we finally crested the hill. Of course, it helped that Fr. McKenna was blowing the horn, as were some cars behind us. We slowly rolled over High St. until Father stopped next to the curb at the Southeast corner of Broad and High. Yes, it was a real workout but we were safely on flat ground.
We all climbed aboard again, but the Yellow Bus still would not start. By now, Fr. McKenna was crimson red with frustration and embarrassment. He got off, found a telephone, and called for taxicabs to get us back to Aquinas. The Yellow Bus was towed back to Aquinas. After that, we took cabs to the remaining games.
Affectionately known as “Fuzzy Was He” because he had only a few strands of hair on the top of his head, Fr. Francis Clement McKenna, O.P. left Aquinas that year. He died February 7, 1973, and is buried at St. Joseph Cemetery, Somerset, Ohio.
I do not remember when our Yellow Bus disappeared from next to the building, I just remember never riding in it again after pushing it up the Broad St. hill and tying up traffic at Broad and High.
Perhaps someone remembers when Aquinas sent the Yellow Bus to the end of the bus line? Does anyone know when Aquinas acquired the Yellow Bus?
Addendum from Bob Stark '65
From the minutes of the Dec. 4, 1963, meeting of the Aquinas Literary Society---Same council heard and approved financial report for Oct. 1963 as read by Fr. Sukovaty. Bus broke down; Council decided to accept $150. -for the junking of it
Thomas Aquinas Burke
Aquinas College High School – Class of 1963
July 6, 2003