West Linn bands together to support beloved bus driver
For more than 30 years, bus driver Lorrie Watts has been as reliable as they come.
She knows all of the parents and children on her West Linn route to and from Cedaroak Primary School — and even the family dogs. She goes Christmas caroling with West Linn families, and many think of her as an extended family member.
"She may not live in West Linn," said fellow bus driver Susan Rafetto, "but she is a part of it."
So when Watts hit a series of significant personal and financial roadblocks over the past several years, Rafetto knew she could count on the West Linn community to step up and support its favorite bus driver.
And the need was significant.
Shortly after being sidelined for almost a year with a broken leg, Watts was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was able to overcome the disease, only to see her husband be diagnosed with cancer in 2017. He died in August.
"She's got all these medical bills stacked up from her and him, trying to get by," Rafetto said. "So we set up a GoFundMe (account) — there's so many parents and she's like family to them. ... (For me) it's kind of helping out a coworker and friend, making sure she can pay her bills and everything."
Watts says the extra help has been significant.
"I've always been independent, but I learned through tears how to be humble," she said in a letter to families. "It's been a very rough road, and the GoFundMe has really helped considerably."
Rafetto has worked with Watts for 11 years now and said the connection Watts has with the community is special.
"She has a huge heart and these are her kids, these are her family," Rafetto says. "She's always there — dependable to the extreme — and she has always helped other drivers. (Families) think of her like Aunt Lorrie — a great driver and consistent.
"When she was gone, it was constantly, 'When is Lorrie coming back?'"
As of Jan. 29, the GoFundMe effort raised $4,625 from a total of 73 donors in the two months since it was created. The goal is to raise $10,000.
"All of her coworkers wanted to help and parents are going above and beyond," Rafetto says.
To learn more or donate, visit www.gofundme.com/lorrie-watts.