Last week, Channel 3 Eyewitness News honored Sue Ridzon, of Mansfield, as one of Connecticut's most beloved bus drivers. This week the honor goes to Bill Downes, of Barkhamsted.
Downes was nominated by the Moisan family.
Kyle and Colby Moisan ride on Downes' bus each day to and from school, and the boys are big fans.
Parents Carrie and Brian Moisan wrote to Channel 3 Eyewitness News about Downes and the important role he's played in their sons' lives.
"He's (kind of) like their surrogate grandfather," Kyle said. "He's like a grandfather to us."
Downes, who goes by Bill or Mr. Bill with the children, said he doesn't mind being known that way.
A bus driver for the past seven years, he said he got into the business so he could have the midday off to first start and then run his landscaping business.
"It was an income to start with," Downes said. "But what it turned into now is I have 72 grandchildren that I've watched."
Downes was a trainer in his former line of work.
"One of the things I taught was the Fish Philosophy," he said. "That came from Seattle's Pike Place Fish Market and it's basically 'have fun.'"
He said he calls his students by silly names.
Kyle said he's known as "kaiser roll", while Downes calls Colby "cheddar cheese".
Downes said he takes a true interest in what the children on his bus love.
"Colby is a bird man," Downes said. "He absolutely just loves birds."
Colby said his favorites are the red-tailed hawk and the bald eagle.
So, when Downes spots something interesting flying overhead, he said he'll slow down to show the boys.
One time, "I said 'you (got to) see this eagle,'" Downes said.
Colby, the expert on birds, told Downes, "Oh, Mr. Bill, that's a peregrine falcon," or "no, an osprey.'"
Downes is the first one to acknowledge that Colby is the expert.
The bottom line is that Downes has certainly made an impression on those in his charge.
"He's so good with me and Kyle," Colby said. "We'll always remember him."
In addition to driving the bus and doing landscaping, Downes has another important role in the Barkhamsted community. He is a firefighter and vice president of the Barkhamsted East Fire Company.
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