After 13 years of driving for the Miami Metro, Gene Foley is still one of the friendliest faces on campus.
Gene’s favorite part of the job is the daily interaction with students.
Gene, 68, drove an elementary school bus for 29 years and said his former boss once told him, “Sometimes when students get on the bus you’re the first person they see after maybe having a bad situation. Always say hi.”
Gene always engages students by asking where they are from, what they are studying, how many credit hours they take and what they want to do after graduation.
Gene said he always stresses the importance of education.
“It’s made very interesting conversation,” Gene said. “In all the years, I’ve never met a student with a negative attitude. They are all well-mannered and polite. It’s always been like that.”
Almost by accident
After being in the Navy, Gene worked for 42 years as a mail processing mechanic at the Ohio Post Office in Cincinnati. After retiring from that job, Gene worked on things around the house but found himself still wanting something to do.
During fall 1997, Gene took an employment test at Miami and was told he’d be hired at the dish room in the Marcum Conference Center. After weeks of waiting for the call, Gene saw a listing for Miami Metro drivers.
“They hired me on the spot,” Gene said. “I got the Express 1 Route and didn’t know if I’d like it or not. I eventually got to like it.”
Gene finally got a call back from Marcum, but it was too late by then.
When Gene was hired in 1997, the Express 1 Route was four 15-minute rotations in an hour. Now it is three 20-minute routes. Gene’s Express 1 Route begins at 7 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m.
“I have a little bit of an advantage over other routes because I see the same students every day,” Gene said.
Erik Moss, class of 2007, considers Gene one of his close friends. As an ROTC student, Moss was consistently at Millett Hall and rode the Express 1 Route all four of his years at Miami University. As a senior, Moss didn’t ride the bus as often.
“He would hop on once in a while his senior year and we got to be good friends,” Gene said.
Moss said he has a lot in common with Gene since they’re both in the military and like to run. That’s why he asked Gene to render his first salute at the end of his senior year.
“When I asked Gene, his eyes lit up,” Moss said. “He worked out to fit in his uniform and it made me feel good inside that I was making his day.”
Gene said Moss is a “super nice person” and it was a pleasure to meet his mother and father.
“I was honored,” Gene said. “It was one of the biggest things of my career.”
Moss shared similar sentiment.
“That commissioning was the most memorable day of my life, due in large part to Gene,” Moss said. “It was an awesome experience.”
Josh Betts, a December 2005 graduate, got to know Gene well from riding his bus for two and a half years.
“I got to know him because we were on the same schedule three to four days a week,” Betts said. “He’s a great guy and was nice to athletes and consistent riders.”
Betts played Miami football and was quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger left. Betts said they would talk a lot of football and Gene would come to the games.
“When he graduated, he gave me a signed football,” Gene said.
Gene meets a lot of student athletes on the Express 1 Route, whether it is football, baseball, basketball, track or softball. Gene tries to go to athletic games as often as he can to cheer on the students he knows.
Greg Judy, class of 2008, lived far off campus his junior year and started taking the Express 1 Route.
“Gene always drove in the morning and was friendly, even to people he didn’t normally talk to,” Judy said.
Judy said he eventually started to sit up front and talked sports with Gene.
“We’d always shoot the breeze,” Judy said.
When in a service job, Judy said it’s important to have good communication skills.
“When you’re taking kids to class it’s important to have a good relationship, it makes the trip go by faster,” Judy said. “Out of all the bus drivers, Gene was the one that actually tried to connect with students. I thought that was neat.”
Making a best friend
Gene was fortunate enough to meet his best friend from his Miami Metro job — Tim Fritzsche, a Miami alumnus and driver — on the Express 2 Route. They met nine years ago when Gene introduced himself on Fritzsche’s first day of work.
“We hit it off,” Gene said. “He’s a good family man.”
Ever since, they’ve been going to the community gym and church together every week.
The two families go on boating and camping trips together.
“Gene has honesty, integrity, sincerity and innocence that is hard to find,” Fritzsche said. “I feel like Gene is a part of my family. He knows all my kids and grandkids.”
The two men even have a special handshake they do twice a week.
Fritzsche said Gene follows the basic premise of treating people how you want to be treated.
“He gets so many accolades from other riders,” Fritzsche said. “He’ll get cards at Christmas time with gift certificates and I wonder, ‘How does he get this stuff?'”
Fritzsche joked that Gene can remember every football player’s name and number of yards but will sometimes forget his glasses or clipboard.
“He’s genuinely interested in people,” Fritzsche said. “He’s a personable individual who takes time to get to know each rider. He has vitality for life.”
Fritzsche said he and Gene enjoy their jobs and it’s the students that make it so enjoyable.
“We know there’s hope for the future because we meet really bright, responsible students who have dreams,” Fritzsche said.
Give a little, get a lot
Moss said how successful you are in life depends on how you treat others. He said if you engage people, it makes your job worthwhile. He said students need to be nice to bus drivers as well because it works both ways.
Moss said Gene is like a grandfather figure and always looks out for everyone and waits on them.
“He gets along so well with everyone,” Moss said. “The charisma he has is unreal.”
Moss, who now lives in San Diego and works at a Navy base, said he talks to Gene at least once a month and Gene hopes to take a trip out to California soon.
“I got a lifelong friend out of someone you normally say two words to,” Moss said. “I’m fortunate to have such a good friend. I look up to him and model my life after him. I try to emulate him.”
Betts said in the service field, not everyone enjoys what they’re doing. He said being pleasant makes all the difference. Gene is the only Miami Metro driver Betts remembers and knew on a somewhat personal level.
“That extra effort means a lot to students,” Betts said. “Gene would greet you with a smile and take care of you.”
Gene said he hopes to drive the Express 1 Route for at least another year.
“I’m not getting any younger,” Gene said. “It’ll be tough because I enjoy going there in the morning and talking to students. I wouldn’t want to drive any other route.”