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Meet the 2015 Citizen Driver Honorees

By on May 5, 2015
citizen-drivers-15

The standard set by the first group of Citizen Drivers was high, but the 2015 honorees easily meet it. Five outstanding truck drivers, nominated by their peers, have consistently demonstrated a high degree of professionalism and a willingness to help others. They are examples of the best the industry has to offer, making a positive impact on their fellow drivers, their customers and their communities. Each will have a TA or Petro location named for them.

Meet the 2015 Citizen Driver Award recipients.

RICK ASH / LAKEWOOD, CO

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When it comes to looking your best, feeling your best and doing your best, Rick Ash is the guy to beat.

He wears a button-down shirt and tie while driving (not to mention always having a clean truck), and is conscious of the truckers’ image on the road. He dropped 60 pounds five years ago through a combination of better diet and more exercise, a regimen he’s stuck to faithfully since then. And he shares what he’s learned, whether it’s behind the wheel or on the exercise floor, with fellow drivers around the country as well as friends and neighbors in his Lakewood, Colorado, community.

“I’m different than a lot of drivers out there because I’m only out for six or seven days at a time,” Ash says. “And since I can come home more frequently, I am able to do more community volunteer work, as well as spend time on the programs and organizations that are of interest to me.”

Topping that list is the Trucking Solutions Group, which Ash helped co-found in 2008 and chairs. He calls the TSG members “the most dedicated, passionate and professional people in trucking,” and notes that its Driver Health Council makes a real difference in the lives of men and women on the road.

“We have started health awareness walks at major truck shows, and now are doing blood drives to help the local communities where the shows are,” Ash says. “We have also added a bone marrow donor drive to our portfolio.”

Ash does sometimes deviate from a purely healthy lifestyle; such as when he doles out Hershey’s Kisses to people he meets in tollbooths, restaurants, truck stops and other ports of call.

“I started doing that back in the 1970s, when I drove a motor coach,” he recalls. “It’s a nice way to brighten someone’s day.”

One common thread through all of Ash’s many charitable activities is his desire to make sure people know what an honorable group truckers are.

“I do it because I like the independence, and being able to visit lots of different places around the country,” he explains.

“But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed some wisdom that I want to share with people. Trucking is a wonderful profession, and it’s been very good to me. Now I’m just trying to find ways not only to give back to my community where I enjoy living so much, but also to the trucking industry. I think I can do that by representing it well, and making sure people know how valuable and hardworking truckers are.”

LEADERSHIP: Trucking Solutions Group COMMUNITY: Feed My Starving Children; Trucker Buddy International HEALTH & WELLNESS: Driver Health Council; 9 Health Fair annual volunteer SAFETY: Certified in Community Emergency Response Training/Denver Emergency Management Services – Dept. of Homeland Security

GARY BUCHS / COLFAX, IL

Gary-Buchs

Present Gary Buchs with a problem and then give him a minute. He will find a way to handle it.

Gary began his career as a farmer, and succeeded enough to find himself with too much livestock to haul. So he bought a semi and taught himself how to drive it. Then he created a feed product for dairy cattle. When orders started pouring in, he made all deliveries himself. Without meaning to, he had become a truck driver.

“I am a big believer in the value of good customer service and that was an asset for me when I transitioned into commercial trucking,” he says. “I realized that often the driver making repeat deliveries gets more feedback about the product than anyone else. They become the face of the company.”

In the past 25 years Gary has worked for three trucking companies, establishing himself as the “go-to” guy at each one. He’s always ready to pitch in, especially when it comes to the issue of safety. He regularly speaks to new truck drivers about their role in keeping the roads safe, and serves as an example of someone who succeeds at the job without bending the rules.

He brings that same message of safety to others, spurred into action after two students in his community died in car wrecks that could have been avoided. He has made numerous presentations to community groups about the No Zone. And his talks to high school students about how to handle their cars around trucks are extremely popular.

“I try to live and represent and act out that message,” he says. “I wasn’t the safest driver in the world at one time, but I learned to change. When I look into those students’ faces, I know that if they see me on the road, I need to live what I am saying to them.”

As important as trucking is to Buchs, his family is his number-one priority. So when his son, Luke, was deployed to Afghanistan, Buchs took a leave from the job so that he could help out his daughter-in-law, stationed in Hawaii with her own duties to fulfill. Buchs moved in to care for his two-year-old granddaughter and four-month-old grandson. He ended up staying a full year. Landstar, his colleagues and customers supported Buchs wholeheartedly.

“When I got back and climbed into the truck, it was like I never left,” he says.

SAFETY: 9-time Landstar Star of Quality Award, including a Platinum star for saving a woman’s life; 8 safe driving awards; appears in the National Safety Council Defensive Driving Course video; No Zone presenter COMMUNITY: Lutheran Church Charities; Eight Days of Hope; Youth Works; Ridgeview Food Pantry and more

ROBERT FERNALD / WESTBROOK, ME

Robert-Fernald

Traffic congestion. Careless four-wheelers. The mazelike maneuvering some delivery spots demand. Robert Fernald sees those as minor distractions in a job filled with wonderful moments.

“The view from my office window changes every second,” he says. “Even if I travel the exact same road, it’s a new experience. The sun hits something differently; there are different animals in the fields; the traffic patterns change. It’s a great way to spend my time.”

Fernald followed his father and grandfather into trucking, and has always been passionate about it. With more than 25 years on the road, he wants to share his enthusiasm and knowledge with the public and up-and-coming truckers. He has good standing to do so — a four-time winner in the Maine Truck Driving Championships and longtime member of the Maine Professional Drivers Association (MPDA), he has a strong safety record. But he acknowledges that he had a lot of help getting there.

“When I first joined the MPDA, I was reckless,” he admits. “I was young and dumb. My driving record was far from stellar. In three years’ time, with the help of the mentor program at the association, I completely cleaned up my record and started driving for reputable trucking companies.”

Now with Walmart Transportation, he passes along that hardwon knowledge, helping newcomers get comfortable with the demands of the job and learn the company culture. He’s also a Store Ambassador; acting as a liaison between the transportation department and individual Walmart stores to ensure a smooth working relationship.

He visits high schools throughout the state to offer No Zone classes for students so that they understand how to drive around big rigs, and speaks at commercial driver training schools that are part of the technical high school system. He considers it a great opportunity to speak to these future drivers honestly about life on the road. He doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges and demands of the job. But he does explain why it’s worth dealing with them.

“I could tell you about the traffic. It’s brutal when I hit Boston at 4 in the afternoon — but then I break free from that traffic and it’s exhilarating to be on the open road,” he says. “I could complain about how hard it is to get in or out of some place, but once I’ve done it — I’ve done it! That sense of accomplishment is huge.”

LEADERSHIP: Walmart Store Ambassador; Mentor; MPG champion COMMUNITY: Northeast Truck Drivers Charity Challenge for St. Jude Children’s Hospital; Maine Trucking for Kids Convoy; Special Olympics Convoy; Wreaths Across America

SANDY LONG / MARCELINE, MO

Sandy-Long

Sandy Long believes that being a truck driver means being part of something bigger than yourself.

“I was taught that trucker helps trucker,” she says, “so I pass on all the help I’ve gotten through the years.” As a charter member of the Women in Trucking Association, Sandy manages their 8,000-member Facebook group, posting articles, answering questions and monitoring discussions. She’s written everything from newspaper articles to blog posts to books on road safety (two to be exact). And she’s always happy to give advice — you can often find her talking on the phone with a new driver who’s having problems handling a difficult load, or emailing with potential drivers who need help breaking into the industry. Most of the time, she’s never even met the person she’s helping.

“There are so many of these people coming out here who don’t know how to be a truck driver,” she says. “Two weeks in school, eight weeks with the trainer and then you’re out here by yourself; there’s nobody to ask. I want to help drivers understand the dangers, and to learn how to take action.”

She knows a lot about that. At 19 years old, she jumped into the trucking world right after graduating high school.

“I was working three jobs and had just come out of a foster home when the carnival came to town,” she says. “I went on the road with them, and when they asked if I could drive a truck, I said, ‘heck yes I can!’ I’d only driven a tractor — but you can bet I figured it out.”

Ten years later Sandy made the switch to over-the-road trucking. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done. She was told that as a woman, she was too weak and too emotional to do the job. She was bullied and discouraged. She was told she should be home “raising babies and cooking supper” nearly every day. But she never wavered.

“When I want to throw the keys down and say ‘to heck with it,’ I remember that without me, that car might not get built or that shelf wouldn’t get filled,” she says. “I serve my country and my fellow citizens by being a truck driver.”

LEADERSHIP: Trucking industry coach on LadyTruckDrivers.com and DriverFinder Network; creates and maintains trailertruckintech.com to promote safety and trucker image; Women In Trucking mentor, Facebook administrator and contributing writer SAFETY: 3 safety awards from ACB Trucking, OIX Inc and Jack Rice Trucking

MICHEAL SHEEDS / BANDERA, TX MATT BLUM

Micheal-Sheeds

When his father wasn’t able to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a truck driver, Micheal Sheeds decided to carry the torch on his behalf.

“I thought that I’d be out there for just a year,” he says.

He’s proud to say that he’s been at it for more than 25 years now, and he promotes the professionalism of drivers both inside and outside the industry. A trainer for Werner Enterprises since 1991, Sheeds has mentored more than 225 students and helped them become safe and responsible drivers.

“What I have tried to instill in them is to make good decisions, not just as far as their work ethic, but also avoiding temptations that are out here,” he says. “The harder you work out here, the better it’s going to be.”

The schedule is one of the hardest aspects for new drivers, so Sheeds offers support as they get used to the long days and time away from home.

“I focus on making them comfortable,” he says. “I try to explain about the hardships and the rewards. The hardest part is training, but the sacrifices are all worth it. We can all learn a lot from each other.”

That belief also applies to his work with Trucker Buddy, which pairs school classrooms with truckers. They become pen pals, which lets Sheeds help the students better understand the connection between trucking and their own lives. Plus, he really enjoys his correspondence with the kids.

Sheeds and his wife, Donna, have four daughters of their own, all of whom were adopted from foster care.

“They’re the greatest joy of my life,” he says, and he has become an advocate for other children in the foster care system.

It’s just one of the ways Sheeds is involved in his local community. He also jumps in to cook for church functions and competes in 5K charity races. When encouraging a generous spirit in younger people, Sheeds shares a simple piece of advice that has given him strength and hope throughout his career.

“Go to where to your passion is. When you give, it’s going to come back to you tenfold.”

SAFETY: Werner President’s Safety Award CITIZENSHIP: America’s Road Team nominee COMMUNITY: Trucker Buddy; advocate for children in foster care, member of a post-adoption group to help families of children overcoming a trauma-filled past

 

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One Comment

  1. Darren

    June 30, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    It’s great to see these positive examples shine a light on the industry and it’s drivers. With so much negative press about accidents and crimes, it’s refreshing to see a group of drivers that have a passion for the industry and acting as examples for the rest.

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