School bus driver spreads holiday cheer to children with festive costumes
Dec 23, 2022, 4:02 PM | Updated: Dec 27, 2022, 5:22 pm
ALPINE, Utah — Around this time of year, holiday cheer can be found even in the most mundane places: one man is bringing the Christmas spirit to kids on his school bus.
Scott Russell is a bus driver for the Alpine School District. He’s been driving buses for 15 years and wearing fun costumes for 13 years.
“I love the arts. I love plays, I love characterization so I thought it was fun to dress up,” Russell said. “I started dressing up to make the ride to and from school more enjoyable and just more fun for the kids.”
Russell’s costumes have included a leprechaun for St. Patrick’s Day, Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter, Brigham Young, Genie from Aladdin, a pilgrim, and Santa Claus.
This last week Russell dressed up as Santa Claus one day and a train conductor of the “Polar Express” another day, turning his school bus into the Christmas train and giving out tickets and hot chocolate.
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“This man is incredible. He doesn’t just do the Polar Express for the kids. He also dresses up as Santa and gets out full-size candy bars that are wrapped. He also dresses up on St. Patrick’s Day and Easter, and always has fun treats for the kids,” Jerie Murie Olsen said. “My kids have rode his bus before and absolutely love him.”
“My route includes elementary, jr. high, and high school students and the high school students enjoyed it just as much as the young kids!” Scott Russell said.
Russell began driving buses just a few years out of high school, at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Then he worked in photography for a while, but ultimately came back to bus driving in 2006. He said he always liked it.
“I enjoy what I’m doing and a lot of people can’t say that. They go to work because they have to. I go to work because I have to but also because I enjoy it,” Scott Russell said. “I think I’m making a difference and the things that I do – I have an impact on them.”
“My dad has always been a huge fan of Halloween and costumes, and when he started driving school busses he really wanted to make it fun for the kids. Some of the kids seemed to just really need a small gesture of kindness in their lives and it made going to work more fun for my dad so it was a win win,” Russell’s daughter, Mariah Russell said. “It started with playing kid friendly pop songs in the bus, and he noticed what a big difference that made in the attitudes on the bus, and it kind of evolved over time into decorating for each holiday or event that was going on.”
The next costume on the agenda for Russell is a Utah figure: Utah’s first governor, Brigham Young.
“Next month I’m going to be dressed up as Brigham Young (even though he had already died at that time,) because the 4th of January is when Utah became a state after 40 years,” Scott Russell said. “I’m going to give them a Utah truffle. You can’t dress up and not involve a treat of some kind!”
“One year he dressed up as Dumbledore from Harry Potter and he and my mom really made him look just like him, and transformed the bus to match the theme! It was so neat, and it’s awesome to see them have this hobby together that they both really enjoy,” Mariah Russell said.
During the pandemic, Scott Russell’s wife, Barbara, got fabric with school buses on it and made masks for Scott and 20 other bus drivers.
“I tried to make a situation not ideal, more enjoyable,” Scott Russell said.
Jerie Murie Olsen has been a school driver with Scott Russell for 12 years.
“I wish people understood what an incredible job this really is to work with these children. I cry every year not knowing if I will see some of these kids again. It’s a very rewarding job,” she said.
When asked why he decided to start dressing up, this was Scott Russell’s reply: “As a bus driver, the first thing they see in the morning is you and the last thing they see at night is you and you want to make sure it’s a positive experience.”
Not everyone gets a chance to know their impact in the community they live, but when KSL TV shared the photos of Scott Russell as a conductor of the “Polar Express”, comments came in praising his efforts to make traveling to school more convivial.
“He’s such a kind soul and I just love him and look up to him so much,” Mariah Russell said.
Scott Russell will continue creating magic for children.
“When people ask, ‘When will you retire?’ I say ‘Well, when I get tired of it, and I’m not tired of it yet!'”