WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, NJ -- "Everything I did in my life, this is the best thing that ever happened in 73 and a half years," said Ed Wolk.
Perhaps only second to being a husband and grandfather, "Mr. Ed" cherished his role as a bus driver in Washington Township, New Jersey, for nine years. A recent leg injury made him unable to drive for the last part of the school year, but it did not stop his students from celebrating his well-deserved retirement.
Prior to his tenure at the wheel, he served in the United States Navy and worked for 40 years in the beverage industry as a truck driver and manager. A diagnosis with prostate cancer sparked a change in his life.
"And then after that career, my wife and her friend tried to talk me into driving a bus and I said, 'There's no way,'" said Wolk. "And nine and a half years later, I enjoyed every second of it. Every second."
Today, a surprise celebration was arranged by parents of Mr. Ed's passengers. And they needed to look no further than their teary-eyed children for proof of his impact.
3rd-grade student Annabella Leibrand summed it up in her own special way.
"I feel like he's one of my soul mates and I want to be like him," she said. "And I just love him."
Mr. Ed is known for his quirky morning greetings and sing-songy signature. Like clockwork, he can prompt every student to sing the 'Spongebob Squarepants' theme song.
"We used to talk about basketball, baseball, football, and we just had a good relationship," said 4th-grade student Steven Murray. "He was like a best friend to us."
Ed Wolk will miss driving his routes to pick up students at Birches Elementary School, Chestnut Ridge Middle School, and Washington Township High School. But he has one piece of advice for any kids who might miss him.
"Be kind to each other. Love each other and help each other," he said. "And when you get older, do something for your community because that's what it's all about."