Stampede bus driver doubles as pastor, developmental aide, college student, father
Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 21, 2013 15:03
The bus is packed. Students are crammed next to one another in the tight, container-like space. Some are fortunate and able to rest in the coveted seats while others have to stand for the next three minutes. Still, everyone is uncomfortably close to each other.
There is a low buzz of indistinguishable noises. It’s broken as soon as the bus pulls away from the curb.
“It is three-o-nine in the p.m. Next stop − Greeeeiner! How’s everybody doing today?" calls Stephen Parker, sitting comfortably behind the Stampede’s wheel.
There is instant recognition. Some passengers surreptitiously flash a knowing smile. More enthusiastic ones yell out greetings.
They are excited to see the bus driver, who is better known to passengers as “Pastor Parker.” The jolly pastor is well liked for interacting with them on the bus – a gem among the Stampede staff.
Parker speaks into the bus microphone, greets the crowd cheerfully and gives them the word of the day. He encourages everyone to follow him on Twitter and Facebook, which he updates daily with inspirational thoughts for students.
“All righty, folks,” Parker beams. “Don't forget to do a random act of kindness. If you do something nice to somebody else, they might in turn do something for you.”
He also makes his mission to brighten up students’ days by playing games on the bus − usually Jeopardy or Family Feud.
Parker has built up a reputation for himself over the past five years as one of UB students’ favorite bus drivers. Parker is a pastor who started his own church and runs an on-campus Bible study group. Apart from his bus driving duties and ministerial services, Parker takes on three other lesser-known roles: developmental aide, regular family guy and college student.
Many students look forward to the games and have a genuine interest in answering the questions. Others listen attentively, and a few remain undisturbed. But still students get off the bus with smiles on their faces, according to Benjamin Osenbach, an economic development graduate student.
“I’ve ridden on the UB Stampede several times and have always found it to be quiet because people don’t talk or even make eye contact with each other,” Osenbach said in an email. “When Pastor Parker starts asking his questions for ‘Stampede Feud’ or Jeopardy, I actually see people teaming up to answer the questions, and it really is just an awesome thing to see.”
Others seem to share Osenbach’s sentiments. Parker has 1,206 followers on his Twitter page, which is covered in grateful tweets from students who have found his bus rides fun and uplifting since he started working in 2007.
“The bus drivers tend to be friendly people,” said Lisa Lu, a sophomore English major. “It’s just that [Parker] is really friendly, and he riles up the kids for class.”
His popularity among students has earned him praise from Jeffrey Hamill, the general manager at First Transit, the company that runs the UB Stampede.
“I rode on his bus for a while and passengers really enjoyed riding with him for the short time they do, and they look forward to his bus − they wait for his bus,” Hamill said.
In preparation for the games, Parker records Jeopardy and Family Feud episodes every day. He also takes the time to search for trivia every week.
“That’s part of who I am,” Parker said. “I feel as though if I got the opportunity to give somebody something positive, then I’ll do it.”
In addition to being a bus driver, Parker is an ordained pastor and is involved with ministerial work. Religion has always been part of his life. Both his parents were pastors who headed a strict but loving home.
Parker believes his faith shaped who he is today. Without it, he doesn’t know where he would have ended up.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff that young kids do in the city − hanging with the wrong crowd, [getting] into trouble,” Parker said. “Never was arrested, which I’m glad for. But I did do a lot of things that were rebellious − staying out late, going to parties that I’m not supposed to be at, drinking and smoking − doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing."
Parker hit his all-time low. He then decided to turn his life around.
“I found myself at a place [in my life] where I was upset all the time,” Parker said. “I was angry. I had a real bad temper, [and] it was a total contrast of who I was, the younger me. I was a happy-go-lucky kid. I like to play around, like to joke and like to have fun. And I’ve looked at myself and said that’s not who I am. That’s not what I want to be. So I got back into church [and] through that, it made me into a better person.”
Parker is keen on helping students establish a stronger relationship with their faith. He has been holding a Bible study group in the Student Union every Sunday upon student request.
“I’ve found that a lot of Christian students at UB are hesitant to share their faith with their friends because they are afraid of being stereotyped as superficial friends wanting to convert everyone,” said Osenbach, who is planning to join Parker’s Bible study group. “I feel like he shows the students of faith at UB that it’s OK to share your faith as long as it’s done in love.”