December 5, 2008 in City

Friends for the long haul

Their cab packed with presents, two truckers finally meet their elementary pen pals
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Photos by Jesse Tinsley photo

Jim Buwalda gets a hug from Vernon Stowell and his wife, Linda Lou, from Rebecca MacCoy. The Buwaldas were in Angela Milks’ classroom at Rathdrum’s John Brown Elementary School on Thursday. Student Colin Kelley is in the background. Jim started his correspondence with Milks’ students 13 years ago.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Photographs and artwork from students in a Rathdrum elementary school decorate the living room of two long-haul truckers from Mountain Home, Idaho.

Trucker Jim Buwalda has written letters and sent packages to the children in this special-education classroom for 13 years, during his cargo-hauling travels through the Lower 48. His wife, Linda Lou, another long-haul trucker, joined in the fun after their marriage three years ago.

For the first time Thursday, the Buwaldas traveled to Rathdrum and met the teachers and children they’ve been writing to all these years.

It might as well have been a visit from the Clauses. The cab of the Buwaldas’ truck was loaded with personalized gift bags for each student, containing toys, candy and a $10 bill. The Buwaldas gave teacher Angela Milks a digital camera for the classroom and their company, Team One Transport Inc., of Indiana, donated a digital photo printer and software for the students.

“This guy’s generosity is unbelievable, because he’s never met us,” Milks said. “There’s no way we can repay him.”

But they tried. The children showered their trucker buddies with gifts – gingerbread cookies and chai tea mix they made and a fleece blanket with a hand-stitched fringe. They also gave the Buwaldas another framed portrait of the class for their living room wall.

The Buwaldas are two of the 2,700 truckers who participate in Trucker Buddy International, a nonprofit program for professional drivers to establish pen pal relationships with schoolchildren. Some 35 Idaho truckers participate, along with 52 from Washington. Through the monthly letters, the children learn about reading, writing, geography and commerce.

Jim Buwalda said one class asked him for water samples from across the country. So he dipped cups into rivers and lakes, eventually shipping about 50 samples for the class’s science project.

But this John Brown Elementary School classroom is different, Milks said. The children struggle with basic skills and aren’t able to calculate miles traveled or plot a course on a map. But the relationship is important to them, she said. The kids are overjoyed when they receive a postcard or package from the Buwaldas, and they write monthly letters to the couple. Those who can’t write draw pictures, Milks said.

Vernon Stowell, 12, said he told the Buwaldas in one letter about learning to ride a bike without training wheels.

“I can’t wait to see your big truck,” reads another letter, posted on a bulletin board.

“Thank you for all the special gifts you send,” reads another.

“It all boils down to – they appreciate it,” Jim Buwalda said.

As soon as Buwalda walked in the door Thursday, 9-year-old Eric Stowell flung himself at the trucker and hugged him. Tanner Crosby grabbed Linda Buwalda’s hands and jumped up and down. The children showered the couple’s Chihuahua, Angel, with attention.

“With these kids, anything, everything,” Linda Buwalda said. “How could you not love them?”

Contact Alison Boggs at (208) 765-7122 or alisonb@spokesman.com.


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