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Driven to succeed

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By Stevie Lowery

Peggy Downs is a special person.

I learned that quickly as a teenager boarding school bus No. 173 every morning and afternoon. Every single day as I got on the school bus, Peggy always greeted me with a warm smile.

However, one particular summer morning sticks out in my mind. 

It was the first day of my freshman year in high school. My twin sister and I were a ball of nerves and were anxiously waiting for the bus when we heard our mother scream, "The donkeys are out!"

My mom's five miniature donkeys (which she has been raising since 1991) had somehow escaped from their pasture and were trotting down the road. Freda (who passed away in February at age 46), Margarita, Tinkerbell, Gizmo and Foxy must have decided they wanted to have a little rendezvous in Raywick that morning.

After hearing our mother shriek, my twin sister and I, dressed in our best outfits and shoes, sprinted down the road, trying to coax the donkeys back into the field. (And I was having such a good hair day up to that point.) My mom, still dressed in her pajamas, stopped Peggy in front of our house and informed her of the situation. Being the natural helper that she is, Peggy immediately went into action, and used the bus to block the donkeys' path.

About a half-mile down the road, we were able to corral the donkeys and safely return them to their pasture.

My twin sister and I were furious.

We had ruined our makeup and our perfectly sculpted hair and drenched our clothes with sweat. And, might I remind you, it was the first day of our freshman year... the most important day of a teenage girl's life! It was tragic!

However, through it all, Peggy kept a smile on her face.

It was a testament to the kind of person Peggy is. She helps people in need. She did it as a bus driver, and she continues to do it today as a social worker with child protective services.

Years ago, I was fortunate enough to interview and write a story about her fulfilling her lifelong dream of earning her college degree. She had always wanted to go to college but she got sidetracked with a few things - marriage, having a family and more than two decades of working for the school system as a bus driver. While driving her yellow school bus through the winding roads of Marion County, she used to daydream about what it might be like to go to college and earn her diploma.

And in May of 2005, she did just that.

She graduated from Spalding University with her bachelors of science degree in social work. She has since earned her masters degree as well.

But, her achievements go way beyond her academic accomplishments.

Through her work as a social worker, she has helped countless children and families throughout the region. And, somehow, she has found time to travel the country and world to help those less fortunate, including families in New Orleans who were recovering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. This week, she is featured on the front page of the Enterprise for her recent mission trip to Africa where she helped repaint schools and provide companionship to individuals infected with HIV.

Oh, and I failed to mention that she's also the loving mother of three children and patient wife to local farmer, Steve Downs, who also serves as a comedian part-time on Facebook.

She has to be a saint, right? Or, well on her way, at least.

Peggy says she likes to travel and help others that are less fortunate than she because it allows her to gain a better perspective on the work she does here at home.

She's an amazing lady with a huge heart and a caring smile that always made me feel at ease getting on the school bus every morning.

You see, Peggy was never "just a school bus driver" to me.

She's always been someone special.

 And, man, can she drive!