GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Lori Brooks started her elementary bus route for Grandville Public Schools on a recent Friday morning like she does every day: welcoming each child by name onto her bus for the short trip to school.
“Good morning. Haley! How are you, hon? Haley is our hockey player,” she said.
She knows a little about each student and their families.
“Good morning, Allie! Good morning, Caden! Good morning, Riley! How are you?” she continued at the next stop.
Though the name on her identification card says Lori Brooks, the kids call her “Miss Sparkles,” a nickname she earned when she started driving for the district 10 years ago and wore sparkly accessories or clothing every day. The name fits her personality.
@teresa_weakley She remembers every kid’s name, every year (and their brothers and sisters) #bestbusdriverever #backtoschool ♬ original sound – Teresa Weakley
A video of Brooks welcoming all the students back on the first day of school took off on TikTok, with almost a thousand comments. What the viewers don’t know is how much of her personal life Miss Sparkles sets aside when she puts on her contagious smile and offers her words of encouragement.
Two years ago this week, her husband Ron died unexpectedly. He was paralyzed a week before their first wedding anniversary and spent the rest of his life in a chair, still finding ways to be present for the children he and Lori raised together.
“A tree fell on him,” Brooks said. “That changed our whole life and in an instant. I think it’s not sympathy, it’s empathy for people. … (Ron) didn’t grow up going to church or anything like that, but he has said that if he wouldn’t have been paralyzed, he wouldn’t have found God in his heart.”
The accident put Ron in and out of the hospital and rehab many times, so when he ended up back in the hospital two years ago, Brooks didn’t think it was serious at first.
“All of a sudden, I called after my bus run just to make sure and they said, ‘We’re putting him in hospice,'” she recalled. “I just have to believe it was his time to go. When I got to the hospital that day, he said, ‘I just can’t do it anymore.'”
Despite everything that was going on, Miss Sparkles only missed a few days of work.
“I think sitting at home, just looking at things, wasn’t going to help me,” she said.
She got back on the bus, sharing words of wisdom with the kids, reminding them to be kind.
As she drove away from a stop on her route recently, she stopped and opened the doors to say hello to one of her student’s younger brothers, Damian.
“Last year, he was by the high chair, by the front door. We got a picture,” she explained before shouting to him, “Hello, Damian! How are you? Good morning! How are you? Good? You love the bus? Have a good day! Bye!”
With dozens of kids on any given route, many of whom have siblings, she has a lot of names to keep track of.
“I think it is (easy) because it’s important to me. And when it’s important, I think it’s easy,” she explained.
She doesn’t stop thinking about the kids once they get off the bus at the end of the day.
“You think about them on the weekend and you wonder what they’re doing and how they’re doing. That’s the part that makes the job so rewarding,” she said. ‘I hope I can just be that calm, safe zone for them to tell me, good or bad, what’s going on with them, and go from there.”
Brooks continues to set her personal struggles aside to put a smile on for the student — her sister is fighting colon cancer. In true Miss Sparkles fashion, she answered a question about how she’s doing with a reminder to “get your colon checked” and a smile.