SPRING HILL — What kind of co-worker is Shirley Price?
Last February, she noticed that a colleague seemed depressed after losing her husband a couple of months earlier. Price took up a collection and used the donations to buy roses, chocolates and a frog balloon (the friend really likes frogs) and got it all ready for Valentine's Day.
When the woman arrived at work, Price recalled, she saw the surprises and cried. "And she hasn't been depressed since."
Price also started a "Someone Who Cares Club" to provide baskets of goodies to co-workers who are ill or who have lost a loved one. She is the sole member of the "club," funding her efforts with sales of a cookbook she put together using her colleagues' recipes.
That sort of compassion and generosity, along with more than three decades of diligent work for the Hernando County school district, has earned Price the honor of School Related Employee of the Year.
Price was honored Thursday night at the Supporting Stars Recognition Program at the Palace Grand, where she and 25 other nominees were applauded for their service.
Nearly speechless when her name was announced, Price could only manage, "I don't know what to say because I'm shocked." She thanked her co-workers again and again and said, "I'm so shocked!"
Transportation manager Linda Smith had plenty to say, though: "Nobody's more deserving. She's just so very special. She does special things for the other employees, and she does special things for the kids."
Her husband, David Price, echoed Smith. "She deserves it," he said.
Price, 55, herself a product of the Hernando County School District, drives buses for Central High and Moton Elementary schools. She drives some children whose parents and even grandparents she has carried in the past.
Price began driving school buses on her 23rd birthday, handling clunky vehicles with standard transmissions, no power steering and hard metal seat backs. The only air-conditioning was 22 open windows.
On Friday, she recalled some of the adventures she has had during the 30-plus years she has been on the road.
Like the time she wrote a discipline report on a student, and the next day, the girl confronted her with a gun. She has had her windshield and a passenger window shot out more than once.
One day, six men in suits got out of black sedans at a bus stop. One of her riders, it seems, was a kidnapped student whose non-custodial parent had brought her from New York to Florida. The men were from the FBI.
Another time her bus was bombarded with eggs and oranges.
She has been called upon to testify in court in child abuse cases involving children who have shared information with her.
Her daughter-in-law, Laura Carlucci, sang Price's praises.
"She totally deserves this because she's a very giving person,'' Carlucci said. "She has a big heart. She's just awesome."