John Hansen did more than just drive kids to school. On the way, the affable bus driver in the Lakeville School District joked, sang and dispensed candy and words of encouragement to students who needed a lift.
Hansen drove on Route 15, which served students attending Lakeville North High School, Century Middle School and Christina Huddleston and Crystal Lake elementary schools. He suffered a heart attack while the students were on spring break and died March 30 at his home in Rosemount. He was 63.
"When I found out he passed away, I felt a great deal of sadness," said Alyssa McGinley, a junior at Lakeville North who had ridden Hansen's bus for two years. "There was a day when I was sad and he gave me Jolly Ranchers and said, 'Keep your chin up; the sun's still shining.' He was a wonderful man, and the bus will never quite be the same."
Hansen began driving for Schmitty and Sons School Buses Inc. in 2004 and instantly developed a rapport with his passengers, said the company's general manager, Maureen Guion. "He was a warm and friendly man, always positive, and the kids loved him," she said.
Hansen was born in Anoka and attended Minneapolis Central High School. He enlisted in the Marines during the Vietnam War, said his son Eric, of Shakopee. After the war, he finished his GED and went to work at a south Minneapolis auto body shop.
He worked as a roofer for about 20 years and was an over-the-road truck driver before a friend suggested that he drive a school bus, family members said.
He provided an entertaining ride to school, telling jokes and singing goofy songs that got the elementary-aged kids laughing.
"He'd sing and say, 'Mickey Duck' and then the kids would say, 'No, it's Mickey Mouse,' " his son said. "He had a lot of fun with them, and he got a kick out of what kids said."
He had an effect on the older students as well.
"He had an unusual way of making people feel better regardless of their circumstances," Eric said. "Whether it be by handing candy out or giving an encouraging word, he seemed to be very good at sensing when something wasn't right, and he did what he could to make it better."
Off the clock, Hansen liked tinkering in his garage and working on his 1971 Pontiac GTO. He was an aficionado of motorcycles and muscle cars and attended many street-rod fairs. He also enjoyed spending time with his family and fishing.
In addition to his son Eric, Hansen is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Sharon; two other sons, Scott and Paul, both of Eagan; a sister, Tammy Loyola of Andover, and two grandchildren.
Services have been held.