BETHEL — Burnham “Burnie” Rice has seen schools open and several schools close. He’s seen youngsters of several generations ride on his school bus, and he has been with SAD 44 practically since the district was formed about 40 years ago.
Rice, 65, now the district’s buildings and grounds supervisor, has decided it’s time to retire.
“No one really knows how much he does and his commitment to the district,” Superintendent David Murphy said. “He has brought so much of himself to the district. When there’s a snow day, he’s here at 3 a.m. until late at night.”
Rice, a Vietnam War veteran from 1967 to 1970, has worked for the district in transportation, buildings and grounds, or both, for 38 years. But he actually began his school-related career while he was still a student at Gould Academy in Bethel. SAD 44 hadn’t been formed yet and all area students attended high school there.
While a student, he sometimes drove a bus.
“I was hauling kids who I was going to school with,” he said.
Although he is supervisor of building and grounds, he still occasionally drives a bus route when needed.
He’s seen big changes in the behavior of students.
During his early days, there was more parental discipline, he said.
One or two might be disruptive, but most were good back then, he said.
“I took care of the situations myself,” he said.
During his first year of driving a school bus sometime in the early 1970s, he drove the Woodstock run. He remembers thinking that one of those roads looked more like a cow path than a road that vehicles used.
“I couldn’t believe it was a road,” he said.
As building and grounds supervisor, his top priority is making sure everything in all the schools is safe for youngsters.
He also ensures that the heat is on in the schools, and the air conditioning is working at Crescent Park Elementary School. He and his very small crew are responsible for lining the football, soccer, field hockey, and baseball and softball fields, and plowing walkways.
During his nearly four decades with the district, a new football field was built, schools in Locke Mills, Newry and the Ethel Bisbee school in Bethel were closed, Woodstock got a new school, and Crescent Park underwent a major expansion project.
He’s seen many principals, superintendents and teachers come and go.
Retirement will bring more time to devote to fishing, hunting and snowmobiling. He also plans to find a part-time job.
His wife, Gloria, still works so extensive travel is not planned just yet. He and his wife have four children and five grandchildren.
Although he leaves his position at the end of December, he expects he’ll drop in every now and then at the bus garage or the high school to have coffee and chat, he said.
The district is considering combining Rice’s position with that of transportation director and hiring another mechanic.
“Burnie will be sorely missed,” Murphy said.