Local News

From humble beginnings, FIT finds a home

The entity that's now referred to as Finney County Transit, or FIT, started from humble beginnings.

Date: 4/17/2009

Posted by Finney County Transit on 4/17/2009

Author: Stephanie Farley sfarley@gctelegram.com Don Ploger and Erma Adamson were members of the original effort and the Finney County Committee on Aging Inc. that purchased the first bus that would eventually lead to the creation of the Mini Bus and City-Link bus services. According to Adamson and Ploger, who both attended Friday's dedication ceremony and open house of the Finney County Transit Center that opened in December, the first bus was purchased around 1974 and started transporting the elderly and senior citizens to various places in the community. Ploger said the Garden City Family YMCA gave the group a small office space to operate out of -- that was before the group moved into the Finney County Senior Center's current location at 907 N. 10th St., a former grocery store. Ploger said Leona Meadors also was involved in the effort and served as secretary, keeping track of the calls from people needing rides. It was hard, at first, finding drivers, Ploger said. And when Meadors couldn't find drivers, she'd lock the office door and go drive the bus herself. On Friday, as people gathered at the new transit center, 1008 N. 11th St., to dedicate the building, the group also recognized the 30th anniversary of the Mini Bus service since it's been operating out of the senior center. Ploger said the group thought they were fortunate just to get one bus. "This has just blown our minds," he said of what the bus service has grown from since originally starting with one bus. Adamson returned to Garden City years ago to care for her aging parents, and at the time the committee applied for grant money for its first bus, she saw a definite need for helping the elderly get where they needed to go. While Adamson saw the need, she never thought she'd ride the bus or use a service like Mini Bus, she said Friday afternoon as she rode the bus home after the dedication. She uses the bus mostly to get to beauty appointments now. Anna May Velev also was involved early on with the Mini Bus service. She was a bus driver, at the time, for USD 457 when the service and one bus were looking for drivers. Velev volunteered, and she's stayed involved with the effort and what FIT vows to do: "We get you where you need to go." "I don't think you all realize what a jewel we have here," Velev said to the group gathered Friday inside the transit center. Velev looked at FIT Director Bonnie Burgardt as she spoke, saying Burgardt worked hard to find the funding to get City-Link -- the city of Garden City, FIT and KDOT operated fixed-route bus service -- up and running, as well as transforming Mini Bus into one that serves those with physical limitations and disabilities unable to ride City Link. City Link started in September 2007 and took Burgardt's staff of about seven to more than 25 employees and 11 buses, including the Mini Bus paratransit service. The title "Finney County Transit" even came into being to form the entity that would encompass both Mini Bus and City Link. Velev remembers standing with Burgardt one day after someone had super-glued the locks on the buses, and the service couldn't operate until the problem was fixed. At that time, the buses were kept outside in the senior center parking lot. "She says, 'We've got to get a garage,'" Velev said of what Burgardt told her. Finney County commissioners bought property at 1008 N. 11th St. in June 2004 for what would become the transit center bus barn. On June 9, 2005, an application was submitted to KDOT for the bus barn, and on Jan. 19, 2006, Burgardt received word the project was approved. Burgardt secured about $2 million in funding through a federal grant administered through KDOT for the project. After more than four years of working toward the transit center, Burgardt and her staff moved into the building during Thanksgiving vacation. The bus barn and transit center also was a dream of Elmer Lehman's -- Burgardt hired Lehman on as a driver/mechanic for the Mini Bus service, and Lehman dreamed of a day when he'd have a garage to work in for the buses. He died Sept. 11, 2005. But as Burgardt showed his photo to the group during the dedication, she explained they've dedicated the driver training room to Lehman. And on Friday, Velev said the transit center is achieving now what she, Burgardt, Lehman and countless others originally set out to do. "It's given people the ability to move around," she said. Burgardt also announced during the dedication that FIT will receive on May 4 in Seattle the 2008 Federal Transit Administration Annual Award for Success in Enhancing Ridership. "The evolution of Finney County Transit is a great success story...," Chris Herrick, KDOT director of planning and development, told the crowd. "What you have done is precisely what we must do more of as both a state and nation as fuel prices, climate concerns and demographics push us to develop alternative, more efficient ways of getting from one point to another." Copyright 2009 Garden City Telegram, All Rights Reserved.