Larry the Bible Bus, a Kelly green, vintage-looking school bus manned by Eli West, ’17, will be rolling into campus every Sunday beginning Oct. 15 to take students to Pine Ridge Bible Church.
The bus, whose name pays homage to Larry the Cucumber from the hit children’s series “Veggie Tales,” is Pine Ridge’s latest investment in its college ministry.
“Pine Ridge has been wanting to do this for awhile,” West said. “We have a long history with Hillsdale and its students and this bus is hopefully one way of strengthening the connection.”
Though close to 30 students already consider Pine Ridge their church home, the staff wants to ensure that the church’s 17-mile distance from the college does not deter students who do not own cars or who may not want to drive in the winter.
Stephen Savas, a senior at the college who has attended Pine Ridge since his freshman year, recognizes the need for the bus.
“I was usually able to get a ride from friends or local church families, but if that fell through I would have to attend a nearby church instead,” Savas said. “While I haven’t experienced the bus in the winter yet, it’s still definitely the dopest looking thing you would ever want to ride to church.”
Pine Ridge received the bus as a donation several years ago but lacked an operator until West joined the staff this May. He worked to obtain his commercial driver’s license this summer, completing a month-long process that culminated in a detailed three-part exam.
“Not only did I have to pass a driving section and a written section, but I also had to thoroughly explain to an expert what the purpose of every interior and exterior part of the bus was,” West said. “It was not for the faint of heart.”
West’s duties as bus director include driving the bus on Sunday mornings, training volunteers, and performing general maintenance. While the bus is mainly intended for its Sunday morning routes, picking up students from the Searle Center parking lot at 8:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., it also transports middle school students to a ministry in Reading on Sunday evenings.
West, who graduated with a degree in history and has plans to pursue his master’s degree after spending the year with Pine Ridge, never included driving a bus in his five-year plan.
“It was all pretty unexpected, but I knew I wanted to get out of the books and into the field,” West said.
While the role of bus director came as a surprise to West, his continued involvement with Pine Ridge did not. West began attending Pine Ridge as a freshman and developed close relationships with the staff and the community during his time as a student.
“It wasn’t a hard decision to stay at all. Going into senior year, I didn’t really want to leave Hillsdale so when the opportunity arose, I took it. It was great not to have to bother with the normal nostalgia that seniors go through,” West said.
West credits the Pine Ridge community for playing a formative role in both his college experience and Christian faith and looks forward to investing in the next generation of students.
Sam Cassels, a junior at Hillsdale who attends Pine Ridge, first met West during his freshman year and is grateful that West stayed with the church after graduation.
“We’ve been able to meet more often and it’s really neat to have an older guy around campus to talk to and act as a mentor,” Cassels said.
To West, his position at Pine Ridge means more than just driving a bus, but serving a community that has welcomed him so fully.
“I’m grateful to give back in some sense what was given to me,” West said. “It’s a reward and blessing on its own.”