Trucker Buddies: Ken Derflinger, Doug Clark

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

Fayette resident Ken Derflinger has always enjoyed being involved in youth related activities. Unfortunately, his job as a commercial truck driver puts him on the road for upwards of 25 days a month. This doesn’t leave much time to volunteer in local schools or parks programs.

However, about six months ago, Ken caught a radio show segment featuring Gary King, the founder of the Georgia-based non-profit group Trucker Buddies.

The organization pairs truck drivers with classrooms, and the match-ups are a hit. Since 1992, Trucker Buddies has linked thousands of truck drivers with second through eighth grade classes all over the country.

trucker-guy Listening to King speak of his experiences, Ken thought the program would suit him well, and his employers at Wauseon’s Wood Trucking encouraged his decision to volunteer. In April, he was assigned a third grade class at a public elementary school in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Truckers enrolled in the program maintain a pen pal relationship with their students. Ken e-mails his classroom two or three times a week. Students e-mail him about once a month.

What does he write about? Anything and everything related to his life on the road. He sends the students updates on his journeys, digital photos of landmarks he encounters, and news about the cargo he’s carrying.

Many might think that truckers, who are often depicted as seedy and unsavory by popular culture, have little to add to the classroom experience. This misconception arises when people fail to see the big picture, Ken says. A view of the big picture is precisely what trucker buddies strive to offer—in more ways than one.

Few young students are well-traveled enough to understand how vast the countryside is—to know about the Tennessee mountains, the rolling hillsides of the Texas panhandle, the deep valleys in Missouri. They’ve never seen the Chicago skyline or the Great Lakes. The teacher of Ken’s class wasn’t aware that a buckeye is a nut and not an animal.

Through his stories and photographs, Ken helps awaken students to the sheer diversity of experience the country has to offer. He also tries to enlighten the students about the manufacturing industry.

At one point, his students had a hard time believing that he was carrying an entire truck full of Hershey’s candy bars—they couldn’t believe that that much candy could exist. So, as proof, he took a photo of his shipping invoice and sent it to them.

“They’re learning from a job that most people take for granted,” he said. “A lot of students don’t know that there’s a big process involved in getting their next box of macaroni and cheese from the production plant to the dinner table.”

“If you ask some children where milk comes from, they’ll say ‘the grocery store.”

Trucker Buddies also work with teachers to devise educational exercises related to the program. For instance, students might calculate how many regular-sized cars it would take to equal the weight of a semi-truck, or add up the length of his daily journeys to find the total distance of a shipping route.

“I especially like the geography connection,” said Waldron elementary school teacher H. Hukill.

Last year, Morenci resident Doug Clark served as a Trucker Buddy for her class of second graders. While Ken is more apt to use the computer to communicate, Doug liked to rely on good old snail mail—sending post cards from various destinations to the students.

When the cards arrived, students attached them to a map of the United States on the classroom wall, tracking their pen pal’s progress. Doug also sent the class various souvenirs from his travels, such as a chunk of salt from the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

There is no one way to go about being a good Trucker Buddy, says Ken. He often logs onto the www.truckerbuddy.org to find new ways to contribute to learning. However, the program isn’t for everybody.

Some truckers sign up for the program without realizing just what it entails—eventually falling out of contact with the students as they grow tired of the responsibility. Ken says the teacher of his classroom went through two Trucker Buddies before finding one that stuck—him.

Two weeks ago, Ken’s dedication to the classroom paid off—he finally got to meet his students. His dispatcher in South Dakota assigned him a load of paper rolls headed to Ontario, Calif., and the route took him just six miles north of Albuquerque.

In Ken’s words, the kids went “crazy” when he showed up with enough pizza in tow for everybody. Of course, the teacher knew he was dropping by, but they planned his afternoon-long visit as a surprise.

Over the course of the next few hours, he answered students’ questions and conducted a tour of his rig. He even accompanied the children to recess, where he was treated like a school-wide celebrity.

“They all had to introduce me to their friends and brothers and sisters,” he said. “It was really something.”  

   - Oct. 4, 2006
  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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