The Canfield family is well-known for their can-do spirit. They and their drivers have gotten children safely to and from school for the last 57 years.
In 1962 Dick Canfield was contracted by schools in Ladysmith to provide noon bus transportation for kindergarten students to their homes.
Dick started with a 12 passenger bus. A few years later, he purchased a 55 passenger school bus and was contracted to provide three routes in the morning, during the noon hour and in the afternoon.
Dick was the primary bus driver. His son, Ken Canfield, was a substitute driver for Hawkins routes after school athletic practice. Ken’s wife, Janet Canfield, was a kindergarten noon substitute driver.
Janet, who grew up in a Ladysmith house across the street from Parker’s Pond, caller her father-in-law a people-person who could get along with anyone.
“We really liked it,” said Janet about why the family ran a school bus company for so many years. “We all liked the kids. The kids were so good.”
Ken also grew up a few blocks away after his parents built a home on College Avenue.
Dick and Frances Canfield started with a garbage business, and later sold ice cut from the area lakes and rivers. They were old-fashioned, hard-working people, and this instilled a tremendous work ethic onto their children.
Dick bought his first school bus, and the family business began cranking into high gear.
Over the years, Ken and Janet attended school together. They were both very active in school as classmates, and especially enjoyed Lumberjack Day.
He was homecoming king, and she was a drum major leading the band.
They both graduated with the Class of 1956, getting married two years later. They had two children, Lyn Yotter born in 1960 and Doug born in 1963.
“When I look back over the years, oh my goodness, our folks were such hard-working people,” Janet said. “You have to know the background of the work ethics of Ken’s family and my family. We all worked really hard.”
Her father, Arthur Stein, was a line superintendent for Lake Superior Power Company and her mother, Helen Sill Stein, was a meticulous stay-at-home mom always willing to help anyone at the drop of a hat.
Growing up, Janet was active in school sports while also whipping it on the roller rink above the old A&P and skating the ice of Parker’s Pond. Ken also played school sports, and afterward honed his driving skills driving his parent’s garbage and ice trucks.
“Those were the good-old-days,” Janet said. “If I could pick a perfect childhood, oh man, it was Ladysmith. It was just wonderful.”
Over the years, Dick employed bus drivers, Don Moravec, Terry Nelson, Ken Canfield and Jan Canfield to cover daily routes and trips for sports, music events and anything else the school requested.
Ken and Janet raised their family on a dairy farm, passing on the hard work ethic to their children.
Ken took over the bus service as his father’s health started to decline in 1979.
Canfield Bus Co., LLC was formed May 12, 2005 providing the Ladysmith School District with continuing bus service.
“I had no idea that I would keep the bus this long because Ken was sick for quite a while before he passed away, and he just passed away two years ago,” Janet said. “You just dig in and keep on going. I couldn’t have done it without the people who helped.”
Janet praises her dedicated bus drivers, Zoe Miller and Richard Balz, for stepping up to the plate when Ken’s health started to decline. She cites them for helping her get through the last two years after Ken passed away, noting Richard’s service work to keep the bus running and Zoe’s willingness to help when necessary.
“They continued to drive bus routes, took care of the repairs needed and so much more. Our drivers were more like family to us and still are,” Janet said. “They both know what hard work is.”
Janet can not stop praising each of them, saying it was always possible to get one of them to drive at a moment’s notice.
“They never, ever, ever, ever turned us down. They are like family,” Janet said. “They are good, good people.”
Both Richard and Zoe are expected to continue driving with other bus owners in the area.
Ken was the type of person who would give you the shirt off his back. He drove a propane truck. He worked at Rite Way Oil. He helped build the former elementary school.
Janet worked at King’s Cafe. She worked at Bell Telephone until the local switchboard went dial.
Two years after graduation, they got married and started a family,
The family always found a way to make things work, including when Ken was physical plant manager at Mount Senario College and on call, around the clock.
Janet called the school bus business very fulfilling. While Ken, who was already working at the college, did the bus driving, she did the routes, billing, bookkeeping and other paperwork.
More recently, the Canfields lost the noon bus route when the school district switch from half-day to full-day kindergarten. They rolled on with the morning and afternoon routes.
After Ken passed away on July 8, 2017, Janet continued to run Canfield Bus Co. until this year, when on June 6 when she informed the school district of her decision to put the brakes on her family’s long tradition in the school bus business.
“Our plan has always been to continue to pass the business down and keep it in the family. That is no longer possible,” Janet said in a letter to the school board this month, announcing the company would be ending its service to the school district.
“It is time for me to retire,” Janet said.
The Canfield’s daughter, Lyn Yotter, called her mother’s retirement a very sad day. “This bus company had been in our family since 1962,” she said.
A lot has changed over the years, according to Janet.
Gone are the days of word-of-mouth recommendations and handshake deals, replaced with contracts and written agreements.
She still has the $1 bill from when Ken’s mother and father sold him the long bus and Ken and Janet took over the family business.
“Oh yeah!” Janet said. “There is a lot of history.”