Steamboat Middle School Principal Jerry Buelter survives bus breakdowns, retires after 37 years
June 5, 2017
Former Steamboat Springs High School teacher Wayne Williams vividly recalls the frigid January night he was marooned in a broken-down school bus with coach Jerry Buelter and 25 high school girls.
It happened in the wee hours on a remote stretch of Colorado Highway 131 about three decades ago.
Current physical education teacher and high school volleyball coach Wendy Hall had the same nightmare. But in both cases, it was not a bad dream. It really happened.
Buelter is retiring from his post as Steamboat Springs Middle School principal this month, and he’ll take a treasure trove of stories along with him.
The tales about Buelter being stranded on a bus were among many shared during a May 2 retirement party honoring his 37-year career with the Steamboat Springs School District, which began in 1980 when he was hired as a social studies teacher and coach.
Throughout his career, Buelter demonstrated that he had the right temperament to guide and teach adolescents and emerging adults.
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His ability to bring a sense of calm to almost any trying situation is one of Buelter's best traits, and Williams remembers well how Buelter kept everyone calm and upbeat on an unresponsive yellow school bus in the middle of nowhere.
"We were coming back from Battle Mountain," when the bus broke down, Williams recalled. "It was 1 a.m. and a good 20 degrees below zero. We remembered that we'd passed a farm house a few miles back. We put on some of the girls sweaters," and began walking down the highway.
The two men had gone only about 100 yards, Williams recalled, when it dawned on them that if no one answered the door at the farmhouse, they might freeze to death.
Fortunately, a passing motorist contacted the school district to send a rescue bus. It was former school superintendent JAlan Aufderheide, who drove the rescue bus to get the students safely home.
Oddly enough, years later, Hall had a similar bus breakdown with Buelter.
"We were coming back from a basketball game in Glenwood Springs, and we were on the last uphill climb before you get to Toponas, when the bus lost all power," she recalled. "The heater on the bus wasn't working, but luckily, we all had sleeping bags. You have to remember, this is before cell phones."
Once again, it was Superintendent Aufderheide, who arose in the middle of the night to rescue the girls basketball team.
Move to Strawberry Park
Two decades later, Buelter accepted the job as assistant principal at Steamboat Springs Middle School to work with Principal Tim Bishop just in time to help guide the transition from a junior high school to a middle school.
Together, they restructured the staff into teams that allowed classroom teachers to focus on 50 students instead of 100. And they implemented a new approach to mentoring adolescents based on teaching positive behavior.
"It really brings a different atmosphere to the school," Buelter said. "Tim and I set out to establish the principles of a middle school — one being understanding the social and emotional development of the students at your grade level. That was big."
Buelter became principal in 2013 and clearly likes middle school students and the unpredictability of their behavior from minute to minute.
It's traditional to ask people on the verge of retirement what they will do with their newfound freedom. In Buelter's case, his wife, Carole, and step-daughter Chutney are very concerned.
"My biggest fear is that he'll (follow through on plans to) pave the backyard and carpet the garage," Carole said with a straight face.