Trusted behind the wheel

Jessica Remo

“How’s your head?” she asked the six-foot-tall basketball player in navy blue warm-ups. She doesn’t know his name, but she remembers his face and that a few days ago, he forgot to duck on his way off of the shuttle.

“He really clonked it,” Darlene Hoffecker, better known as “the shuttle lady,” said later. “I felt bad.”

If you’ve ever ridden the on campus shuttle, you’ve probably gotten a “have a great day” from Hoffecker. And there’s something about the way she says it that’s different from anyone else. Maybe it’s sincerity. Maybe it’s a tireless smile.

When approached about a profile, she gave a bashful smile saying, “Oh, I’m not interesting.” Upon further persuasion, she agreed but only because “it was good advertisement for the shuttle.” Still focused on her job, she chides that the article should have come out in the beginning of the year, as many freshmen hadn’t quite understood the white and blue anomaly driving around campus.

“The freshmen didn’t catch on real fast,” Hoffecker said. “One time I had a shuttle that has a money changer in it, and one of them asked me how much it cost for a ride.”

She follows this story with a hearty laugh. Hoffecker has lots of stories.

But her story began years ago, growing up in nearby Malvern, Pa., where she worked in her father’s auto shop. It was here she met her husband, Chuck, a worker for her dad.

“One day he called the house, and I went to put him on hold and get my father,” Hoffecker said. “But then he was yelling back, ‘No, no, I want to talk to you.'”

She was only 15 years old at the time. They married a few years later. Their two sons, Brian and Jeremy, are now 20 and 25, respectively.

“To bond as a family we decided to take a motorcycle course together,” Hoffecker said. “That year I bought myself a Harley.”

And Hoffecker loves to ride. In a picture, she sits atop her favorite purchase. She smiles at the camera in her black leather getup, which matches the black bike detailed with yellow flames. It’s hard to believe that she’s the same woman now, wearing the gray pants, blue button-down shirt and short navy blue tie that dons the “Krapf’s Bus” name to top off the uniform.

“Our old uniform had blue pants,” said Hoffecker. “But once I went into McDonald’s, and they were giving me a free hamburger. When I asked them why, they said they thought I was a manager coming to check up on the employees. I told my boss, and they changed it to gray pants after that.”

Though she never managed fast food, Hoffecker was once a waitress, among other jobs before her bus career. She also worked on a car assembly line as one of only three females in her factory.

“They had to hire a certain quota of women in order to get a government contract,” Hoffecker explained. “I was the fuel tank lady. I loved that job.”

After her stint in the factory, Hoffecker had her two sons. She started driving a school bus in 1989, since her younger son could ride with her.

“I only planned to do it until he was in school full-time,” Hoffecker said. “But here I am now, still driving!”

Now a normal day for Hoffecker involves waking up at 4am, when she feeds the 10 or so finches that she breeds and sells. Then comes the drive to Krapf headquarters in Westchester to pick up the shuttle, and the ride to Villanova – a commute which takes over an hour. Her route on campus begins promptly at 6:45 a.m., all the way through until 5 p.m. with an hour for lunch. She eats lunch sitting in the work van, in case she gets a call for a student who needs to be picked up.

But Hoffecker doesn’t mind the long hours. And it only takes one ride on the shuttle to start to see just how much she loves her job. When asked what she liked best, she responded without hesitation.

“The students! Oh the students.” she answered. “I love talking to them, but sometimes I think I talk them right off the bus.”

Hoffecker cruises along, but slows down even for just one student that she notices walking. Being careful not to miss anyone, she often pulls up next to the student, opening the door and asking, “Do you want the shuttle, hun?”

“And she’s the perfect woman for the job,” said Neil, a coworker who runs the mobility shuttle. “She’s always smiling.” Hoffecker even inspires loyalty among her coworkers. When Neil learned that she would be featured in the paper, he responded protectively saying, “Now you do Darlene right.”

What Do You Think of the Shuttle Lady? Comments from Shuttle Riders:

“She’s just so friendly. I’ll hop on the shuttle after a rough day or a hard test, and just having someone be genuinely nice can change my whole mood.”

“Oh yeah, of course, the shuttle lady. She’s just the coolest. I think she’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”

“It’s like she never has a bad day.”

“I’m a senior, and in my four years of regular shuttle riding I’ve never seen her hit anything. I think that’s something to be applauded.”