Posted at 2 p.m. May 1, 2014

LCCC student enjoys little moments in life

From a place of curiosity and wisdom come the drive and determination of an over—the—road (OTR) truck driver, school bus driver, construction worker, divorced single-mom, all packaged into a five-foot, eight-inch frame.   

Curious because her English teacher said, “he didn’t know anyone else who would be dynamic enough to do it.” Curious because she was unsure what a personality profile was but wanted to participate. Meet Sarah Greenwade, a 37-year-old first-time college student in her first semester at Laramie County Community College, having been out of school for 20 years.

With long, golden hair and smiling, blue eyes, Greenwade isn’t your average nontraditional student. “He also says, I’m weird” she said, laughing, referring to a comment English instructor Nathan Huseman made about her.

During class discussions, peppered with witty remarks, Greenwade “likes to have light moments in life. There’s enough of the heavies,” she said.  

And just who is Sarah Greenwade? 

As a student:

“Sarah’s character is amazing. She is always willing to ask questions, to spark discussion, to offer opinions, and to engage in the course material,” Huseman said. “Oftentimes it is her who keeps that conversation going in class. She isn't afraid to express what she feels even if she believes that I (or others) will disagree. I admire that in her.”  

In English class of 13 students, Greenwade is the oldest, but it’s her outgoing personality, smiling face and cordial demeanor that Huseman admired. “In addition, her work ethic is unparalleled,” he said. “She strives to not only learn all that she can but to enjoy it, too.”

As a friend:

Joy and fun are some of the traits that Todd Lerwick, fellow school bus driver, admired about Greenwade. They share a close work relationship every day during the school year. During the summer, Greenwade helps Lerwick with construction projects, and they have become good friends. He taught her the details of his business trade like installing siding on four houses and building a four-car garage from the concrete up.

“Many people will not stick around when mixing concrete,” Lerwick said, “but Sarah did.” The two also restored a log cabin museum, and in addition to refurbishing rotting walls they added a deck. 

Greenwade’s work ethic comes into focus for Lerwick as well. “I am impressed by Sarah. She does not shirk any job. It is really good working with her because she has had more dirt on her than most ladies would like,” he said with a chuckle.

Lerwick, 46, was settling in for the evening in his Lazy Boy recliner when he described Greenwade as “energetic, compassionate, giving, caring, responsible and a little naive at times. She asks me for advice every now and then. I may not give good advice, but it is nice to be asked,” he said. “Sarah is raising her daughter pretty much on her own and it’s not easy. He noted the challenges of Greenwade being a single parent. Additionally, she raises cats, chickens and dogs. Greenwade said she felt Lerwick “thinks of her chickens more as pets because you can pick them up and pet them.”

Lerwick praised her baking, admitting “she will bring treats to the bus barn once in a while although most of us are a little overweight.” (Lerwick is “conscious of his weight and health these days,” Greenwade said, quietly).

“I am not exaggerating when I say she will do just about anything for a person. She has reached out to people, even helped them financially, though she doesn’t have much herself,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for the way she treats others.”
As for Greenwade returning to school, Lerwick said that “it’s a statement that a person in the prime of their life wants to make things better for herself and her child.”

As a mother:

Motherhood is the role Greenwade cherishes most. “Making a better life for me and my child, sometimes I feel that I should apologize to God for loving the gift more than the giver,” she exclaimed. “I love her so much.”

This suddenly single mom was married and stayed in an abusive relationship for 10 years. “That marriage changed me as a person and is a big reason why I like to have more light-hearted moments. That life was based on a lot of years of inward struggle,” Greenwade recalled. “A single parent now, I am ready to better my life with my 12-year-old daughter because of that.”

Describing herself as “self-imposed single and not looking for a relationship,” Greenwade said her strong relationship with her daughter, Anna, is enough. “Having an involved relationship with someone else would interfere with that,” Greenwade said. 

As a wife: 

In 2009, Greenwade returned to Wyoming from Tennessee to visit her dad, who died 18 months later. At the same time she also went through a divorce and never returned to Memphis. “There wasn’t any sense in going back. The reason I was there in the first place (marriage) no longer exists,” she said.

“Dad was sick, but at the hospital the doctor said he didn’t have anything that would kill him. But he did die,” to her surprise, she recalled.   

Although Greenwade acknowledged abuse and problems in the marriage, she was surprised when her husband filed. Yet it turned out to be a turning point in her life.    

As a kid, she had said she “would never tolerate abuse in a relationship. I kept thinking it would get better. It sounds ignorant to have that mindset, but I had it. I became the very person that I always criticized,” she said.       

Seeing other people go through this situation and think “she’s crazy for staying in that relationship.” Greenwade found “she” became “me.” The relationship between Greenwade and her husband behind closed doors was what her heart and mind held on to.

So Greenwade and her then 3-year-old daughter came to Wyoming with a week’s supply of clothes to visit her sick dad. Consequently, her staying contributed to her divorce. To an extent, Greenwade understood the 1,100 miles’ distance. But she was still shocked. Greenwade said she was also shocked her dad was an alcoholic with congestive heart failure who had never quit drinking. After his death, Greenwade went through a phase of depression. “I felt orphaned,” she said, noting she hadn’t spoken to her mother in New York since 2001.

Then she realized that “I am still alive and breathing and have a 4-year-old to take care of.” She found a job at the same place where she went to school as a youth in Burns, Wyo. Greenwade had grown up in Burns, but despite the familiar community so much had changed over the course of her adult life. “It was like moving to a strange town. All the people I knew had moved away, and I hadn’t kept in touch with anyone,” Greenwade said. Compared to Memphis, “Burns was like moving back in time, to the sticks,” she said, laughing.

Originally, she had met her husband through a mutual friend and through work as a waitress at a truck stop in Wyoming.

“As soon as I turned 21, I got my CDL (commercial driver’s license), and we went trucking together,” Greenwade said. They got married and continued to drive trucks. When their daughter was born, Greenwade kept driving until the baby was 10 months old.

“It became too hard to drive with the baby in the cab. I breast fed and everything,” she said. When the baby became too active, and noisy, Greenwade and the baby stayed in Memphis while her husband continued over the road driving.

As a single parent:

Fast-forward to 2009 (and present day), Greenwade and her daughter still live in her dad’s 1980s’ model doublewide mobile home. “It has helped so much. Don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s not special, but it is home,” she said with nostalgia. 

Driving a school bus and making minimum wage, Greenwade considers herself poor. Yet she conveys to her daughter that “rich people do not have a monopoly on cleanliness or being kind. So we can be both of those, and we don’t have to be ashamed or feel bad.”

A typical day in the Greenwade household starts with mom awake at 5 a.m., and Anna is up at 5:30. They leave for the bus route at 6, drop the kids at school by 7:45, complete route paperwork and Greenwade is in Cheyenne for her first class at LCCC by 9 a.m. Classes are finished by noon, and she’s back in Burns by 2 p.m. for the afternoon bus route. Finishing the route, the family is home by 4:45.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Greenwade is back at LCCC for evening classes at 5:30. Finishing by 6:45, she is home by 7:30 and in bed by 11 p.m.    

“The 23-mile one-way trip isn’t that bad, but every day and twice a day has skyrocketed my gas bill at $400 per month,” Greenwade said. Sometimes she wonders whether it would be better to be on public assistance.

The other day she was a bit under the weather and tired. “If everybody has to scrap this hard, nobody would have an education,” Greenwade said through sniffles and nose wipes. “This is coming at a great cost, physically and financially,” she lamented. Meeting with her academic adviser recently, they agreed next semester to discontinue the evening classes. 

On a career path to become a nurse, “it’s now or never,” Greenwade said.  By the time her daughter is old enough to be on her own with school activities, Greenwade can move into a different job. “In the three or so years it will take to get a degree, Anna will be 15 or 16, driving and more independent,” she said. “I won’t have to worry so much about spending time away from her.”

As a Christian woman:

Greenwade has called her Christian-based spiritual convictions simply as “faith.”

It helped her regain a connection with her mother, Karen Ruckinger, and establish, in turn, a relationship with Anna.

Ruckinger recalled good memories of her daughter as a “happy child.” Other memories were not so good. “I didn’t do well in the teenage years with my Sarah,” she said, laughing. “There was some typical stuff that all parents and teenagers go through, and although I didn’t do well, Sarah is an awesome kid and came through it OK. She survived her mom during those teenage years.”

After Greenwade became a truck driver, Ruckinger was inspired to drive trucks with her husband as well. “That’s how we sort of stayed connected for many years, trucking through each other’s areas,” she recalled. “We would meet up, and that would be a wonderful time.” Ruckinger still holds her CDL and drives a school bus as well in New York. 

As for Greenwade’s going back to school, Ruckinger said: “I am really proud of her. It’s not easy going back to school at any age, but the physical work she has been doing for the last few years, she has worked like a man, literally. The physical work outside caused her health problems in the last couple of years, and she realized that she can’t continue like that, and 10 years from now her health may be worse.”

Ruckinger also follows “the truth” principles that are grounded in the Bible. Introduced to this faith by Greenwade in 2012, Ruckinger realized their roles have been reversed in many ways. “I love my daughter to the moon and back,” Ruckinger said. “I wish her all the best in this life and in the life to come.”        

Today, hard work and love are what really matter to Greenwade. She wanted her story to encourage others. “Regardless of your circumstances or events that happen in your life, there are ways to overcome them and better yourself and your circumstances,” she said. For Greenwade, her faith that “God is in charge has taken so much pressure off of me that I am not my own. I belong to God. He created me and I can give myself back to him.”

“After all, I am driven,” Greenwade said, smiling as she anxiously looks forward to her next semester, one of many trips on her road of life.