After retiring from civil service at MCAS Cherry Point, Heber Guthrie did not retire. He simply became a civil servant for Carteret County Schools and their students. On Wednesday, April 25, he was honored as the East Carteret High School 2017-2018 School Bus Driver of the Year. Award recipients are chosen by a vote of their peers.
Guthrie also received the award for the 2014 – 2015 academic year. At 6’5”, he towers over the other drivers, many who are female. One of the drivers noted one of the many things he does to help his colleagues in addition to seeking ways to keep students motivated about learning. When the buses are parked, students and school personnel can observe him visiting each one to clean their side mirrors. The other drivers would need a step ladder to reach them.
Guthrie is a fixture at the Oriental Rotary Club Annual In-Water Boat Show. He shares the heritage of DownEast rack-of-the-eye wooden boat building traditions not only at the boat show, but also with students at DownEast Middle School in Smyrna and in other special programs sponsored by the NC Coastal Heritage Association.
Just as NCCHA was in its infancy, DownEast parents approached the veteran civic leader with a plea for him to develop summer programs for young people idled by the decline in commercial fishing. Having once worked after school and during the summers in family fishing operations, a significant number of the students have ample free time for non-productive activity.
Guthrie teaches workshops at DownEast Middle School and other venues, not necessarily to train boat builders in an industry undergoing dramatic changes and transitions, but as he says, “I want to teach them about a big part of their heritage by letting them experience it. I can see them, especially the girls, realize their own abilities to plan a project and complete it. It builds their confidence in their own creativity and occupies their time and energy in constructive ways.”
A visitor to one of the workshops asked young Ian Brice if he were learning new things in an NCCHA sponsored class. He replied, “I learn something new every day I am with Mr. Heber.”
Guthrie now plans to expand the heritage workshops by offering more hands-on experience for students using vessels either built or donated to NCCHA. The NC Maritime Museum recently donated a 20 ft. sail skiff to the association. It is a replica of flat bottom, center board sailing skiffs employed for commercial fishing before engines powered fishing boats. He explained, “I want to take kids out on boats like this with a net, clam rakes, or oyster tongs. They will learn much more about their heritage by experiencing it than being told about it or reading it in a book. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do if we can continue to draw support from the public to do this.”
Ben Casey, NCCHA project director for the Frances Mae, a Core Sound workboat built by Heber, said he hopes to enlist DownEast natives to help guide this vessel to re-enact the days when mail, freight, and passengers traveled from village to village by water. “This activity, like Heber’s work, can teach coastal history by offering a long-gone coastal experience.”
Keith Bruno, NCCHA’s president, said, “We congratulate Heber for being recognized as driver of the year. We are sure it was awarded not just because he drove a bus on time, but because of his positive interaction with students. NCCHA plans to use his model of providing experiences in activities to document and preserve the heritage of the state’s small coastal villages and towns. It is in these communities where fishing and boatbuilding are not just an industry, but a way of life.”
Heber Guthrie is a native of Harkers Island. He and his wife, Diane, live in Marshallberg, just across The Straits that separate the island from the mainland. He has 2 grown children, Meredith and Cliff, who also live in Carteret County.