Rhonda Symonds spends a lot of time behind the wheel. A resident of Ariel, outside of Woodland, the longtime Twin Transit bus driver developed a fondness for the Twin Cities as a former Chehalis School District bus driver. For the last 24 years, this outgoing “people person” has enjoyed working for Twin Transit. “I love my passengers,” she says. “I like getting to know the people who get on our buses. It’s been fun over the years.”
While most days are ordinary, Symonds remembers one extremely rainy morning in January a few years back. Driving near Louisiana Avenue and West Street, she spotted a three-year-old girl walking alone. Alarmed, Symonds stopped the bus, positioning it to block traffic. The girl crossed in front of the bus wearing only little pink boots and a nightgown.
Symonds exited the bus and ascertained that the little girl was, in fact, alone. She asked the child if she’d like to get on her bus, to which the girl replied, “Yes.” Symonds picked her up and got her safety aboard. She then pulled the bus over at Westside Park where she phoned the police. They were already looking for the child.
“It broke my heart thinking that could have been my granddaughter, who was also three at the time,” Symonds says. “It was a very emotional day.”
The little girl climbed up onto Symonds lap and the pair chatted while they waited for the authorities. “She told me her name,” Symonds recalls. “I asked where her mommy was and she replied, ‘I think at work.’ She couldn’t say where she lived. She was a big girl; she wasn’t even crying.”
When the police came, they talked with the girl on the bus. Then they asked if she wanted to ride in a police car, to which she again said “yes.” The girl told Symonds goodbye and was taken to be safely reunited with her family.
Later, Symonds heard through the grapevine that the girl’s dad had started sleeping in front of her bedroom door because she was such a little escape artist. Her grandmother worked at Walmart and she had tried to walk there before.
“She was a brave little girl, that’s for sure!” Symonds says.
Symonds often makes friends with the children on her bus and looks forward to seeing them every day. They love it when she offers them snacks and some friendly conversation. “I’ve always been a kid magnet,” she says with a winning smile.
Symonds looks out for everyone. She once gave her own gloves to a woman she thought needed them more. Kindness is just in her nature. She is kindhearted and quick to help others. She embraces each day with a smile and works hard to get people where they need to go – especially lost little girls in pink boots.