Every morning, Lillie Mapp drives a busload of pre-teens to Beacon Middle School in Lewes, but she is not the sort of person who comes to mind when one conjures up the image of a school bus driver.
Mapp is calm and soft-spoken. She smiles often, a shy smile that reveals dimples in her cheeks. It is hard to imagine her as a disciplinary figure for middle-school students. But, she said, she always reminds students of their manners. “For the most part, they listen,” she said. “I give respect, and I want respect.”
A resident of Harbeson, Mapp grew up in Rehoboth Beach. She began her career as a bus driver for Cape Henlopen School District 26 years ago. At the time, she was working as a custodian for the district, and one evening the transportation director approached her and asked for a favor. “They needed somebody to take the shuttle bus home,” she said.
The shuttle was used to transport high school athletes home after practice. Mapp said she was worried because she had never driven the shuttle before, but the director reassured her. “He said, ‘You can do it,’” she said.
“From there, I started driving the bus for the school when they needed a driver,” Mapp said.
The driving went from occasional to daily, but Mapp also continued to work as a custodian at the school until retiring last year.
Occasionally, Mapp said, she comes across a bully; in one or two instances, kids have even been violent with her. But Mapp does not let a few bad apples overshadow her love of the job. “I enjoy working with children,” she said.
On the school bus, Mapp said, if it looks like a student is having a bad day, she always asks them what is wrong, and tries to put a smile on their face. “I always tell them to have a good day,” she said.
Mapp’s love of people extends to her free time as well. “I enjoy being around elderly people,” she said. Mapp said her interest stems back to her childhood, when her grandmother lived in the same house with Mapp and her parents. “I would sit in the house with her and just listen to her talk,” she said.
Now, she spends much of her free time with Ethelda and Jack Burton, the parents of her employer. She said she sits and talks with them everyday. “Sometimes for hours,” she said. “I like to know about how things were.”
Mapp, 59, was also an assistant coach of the women’s basketball team at Cape High in the early 1990s. Basketball is another love that dates to Mapp’s younger years as a Cape High student. “I scored 1,000 points in my high school career,” she said.
Mapp said she wanted to go on to play basketball in college. She traveled to Roanoke College in Salem, Va., for a weekend her senior year at Cape, and she said she played basketball the entire visit. “I wanted to go,” she said. “I didn’t know about scholarships or grants at the time.”
Mapp said not going to college is the only decision in her life that she regrets. “I wanted to be a phys-ed major,” she said.
But Mapp said she took her knowledge of the game and served as a coach at Cape, along with head coach Dan Cook, for five years, until she was replaced. “I really enjoyed the girls that I had,” she said.
Mapp said teachers get first choice of after-school activities. “If they put in for a job, they would get it automatically over me,” she said.
Now, Mapp said, she enjoys watching her 12-year-old grandson progress as an athlete; he is a baseball player.
When she is not working, Mapp said, she enjoys traveling, although she has not had much opportunity to do it. She said her friends took her on a cruise in 2002, which left from Miami and made stops in Jamaica and Mexico. “That was an experience,” she said. “I didn’t want to come back home.”
The flight to Miami was the first time she had ever been on a plane, she said. “I just was ready,” she said.
Mapp said she loves cold weather, and she hopes to one day visit Alaska. “Ever since I was a little kid, I thought, ‘I’m going to go to Alaska,’” she said.
Mapp also works part-time at Pacific Wines and Spirits in Lewes, where she said her former students sometimes come in to buy libations. “I’m like, ‘They can’t be that old,’” she said. “But they are.”
Mapp said her job at the store, where she has worked for 22 years under three different owners, can get hectic sometimes, but she enjoys being around people. “If I can make somebody laugh, that makes my day,” she said.
Mapp said when she sees students years later, she is happy that many of them are still polite and formal with her. “They still call me Ms. Mapp,” she said. “It just makes me feel good to know they still remember me as that.”
Over the years, Mapp said, she has been able to watch many of her students grow into teenagers and adults.
“I’ve had ones I’ve had from kindergarten through fifth,” she said. Other children she used to take to school each morning now have children of their own whom she drives. “Even some of their parents are still calling me Ms. Mapp,” she said.