Here Comes the Sun: retired truckers show kids the sky

OSHAWA, Ont. — Two good guys who recently left the trucking industry have paired up back to teach a bunch of kids the wonders of astronomy.

Ray White, former owner-operator, and Brian Dernesch, former fleet manager, didn’t know each other before White had a bright idea.

As Trucker Buddy to a Oshawa, Ont. grade four class for the past four years, the recently retired driver wanted a fitting way to end his relationship with the kids, and he came on the notion of showing them the sky and all that it contains by way of telescopes.

A particularly creative Trucker Buddy, he then went to a shop he’d spotted in his home town of Kitchener, Ont. to see if he could take his idea further. That was a good move, because the store happened to be run by someone who not only knew astronomy but was also a veteran of the trucking wars.

Dernesch, once a mechanic at the BLM Group in Kitchener — then their computer systems wizard, and latterly the fleet’s second biggest cheese as operations manager — left trucking last year to follow a dream. He opened KW Telescope, a store dedicated to the astronomy hobby.

When White asked how he might go about bringing telescopes to the school, Dernesch wasted no time in saying, "I’ll do it." And then he organized a crew of amateur astronomers from both his shop and the Durham Regional Astronomy Association to bring themselves and their gear to the school. Along the way he invited yours truly to join the fun.

White spent 30 years as a steel worker in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and then did his own career switch, launching a new career in trucking because he wanted to see the country.

But after nine years with Liberty Linehaul and another one with MacKinnon Transport, the last three as an owner-operator, he decided to pack it all in this past April when he turned 61. Trouble was, that also meant leaving what may have been the best job of his life — being Trucker Buddy to a grade four class at Adelaide McLaughlin Public School in Oshawa, Ont.

"To be an effective Trucker Buddy, you have to be on the road," he says a little wistfully.

He beams with pride when he talks about his relationship with the kids, how close they became. "The kids, every day they came to school they wanted to know where their Trucker Buddy was," he says.

White was especially effective in that role, it seems, probably because he always went that extra mile to please the kids, to help them learn. And on a bright day back in June he engineered a swan song departure from the Trucker Buddy role by joining forces with Dernesch.

The kids were clearly engaged, and they asked countless excellent questions of the experts on hand.

And while all that was going on, White was just enjoying the company of ‘his’ kids. And vice versa. At the start of the proceedings, Sarah Marmara brought tears to his eyes when she presented him with a thank you gift for his years of being their Trucker Buddy.

To learn more about Trucker Buddy visit their website.

by Rolf Lockwood

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