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Trucker and St. John's students connect through mail and in person

Second grade students at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Vermillion pose with their Trucker Buddy John Haley by his truck. Star Gazette photos by Jane Lightbourn1 / 2
Andraya Thorkildson gets a close-up view from the driver's seat.2 / 2

The big-wheeler in the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church lot in Vermillion was the center of attention Tuesday morning for about 15 students at the school across the street.

They got to look at everything from the hoses to the tires. They even got to climb inside and check out the sleeping area.

Trucker John Haley was an enthusiastic guest for all of Maria Therres' students. He described the truck and trailer's operations, his driving background and the places he has driven. The kids couldn't get enough.

Haley and Therres' second-grade students are part of the Trucker Buddy Program, an international pen pal program that began in 1992 to develop relationships and foster learning between truckers and students.

"Our Trucker Buddy has been writing to my classes for three years, but I've been a part of the program for over 10 years," said Therres.  "John sends us postcards and tells us about his travels, the places he's been and the loads he's hauling."

She said that Haley is wonderful at sending packages that contain coloring contests, souvenirs of places he's been and trucking memorabilia.

Haley's wife Sandy works at the FBI, so the students also have some kits, coloring books and bookmarks from them.

Part of Tuesday's visit was spent in the classroom as Haley talked about some of the places he has been in this country and Canada. His postcards were displayed in the classroom.

"I've tried to send as many with holes in them and sparklies as possible," he said.

He held up one from New Mexico and talked about the lifestyle of the Pueblo Indians, much of dictated by the weather conditions. He talked about driving through North Dakota. "There is still snow on the ground," he said.

Haley read about the Trucker Buddy Program in a trucking magazine and was interested. He called the "800" number, received more information, went through another background check and was matched with Therres' classroom.

"I like kids," he said. "It is just amazing what the kids write to me."

Haley, originally from the Boston area, now calls St. Paul home. He has been driving a truck for 32 years.

He is employed by Altom and he transports chemicals for them. He owns his own truck and estimated that in his trucking career, he has driven about 3 million miles. He averages about 100,000 miles per year.

The students were impressed with the 18-wheeler. It has a number of safety options, radio communications, valves, pumps, a horn and different signage to comply with different state regulations. Right behind the driver's area is the sleeping compartment, which students were able to view.