When we picture a classroom, it’s often a sterile room with desks in a row facing a board and a teacher lecturing from the front.
But across seven decades, Union College students who rode Jerome Lang’s bus experienced a different kind of classroom—a moving, traveling place of learning filled with bonding, sightseeing, and experiencing lessons that can only be learned outside of a traditional classroom.
From 1965 through 2011, Lang, a 1965 Union graduate, transported academic, music, athletic and other groups. He initially drove Union’s bus, but after it was sold in 1971, he purchased a 47-passenger bus with the college in mind. In 1995, he bought a luxury motor coach. In all, he generously gifted time, coach service, and fuel for 46 years and an estimated 500,000 miles.
Lang was also a member of the Board of Trustees and the finance committee, and he and his wife, Ramona (’65), provided financial support for the college, including leadership gifts toward the Ortner Center and the Krueger Center.
In 2011, the era of Lang’s cross-country classroom ended when he retired. He passed away in August 2017 at the age of 88.
A friend to students
Music major Mary Christenson Jones (’67-’71) fondly recalls tours in Lang’s bus. One of Jones’ most lasting memories of Lang was when he gave her fatherly advice that forever changed the way she looked at herself. Jones admits she was going through a rebellious streak, stretching her wings in her new environment. She’d dyed her hair and was experimenting with makeup. Lang noticed. “He said to me, ‘Mary, you’d look a whole lot better without all of that eye makeup.’ I was speechless,” she laughed. “But he said it in such a gentle way. He kindly pointed me in a different direction. I’ll always remember him as someone who cared enough about a confused girl with identity issues to give her godly counsel in a kind way.”
That lesson in kindness has stuck with her. “Jerome provided more than a bus ride,” she says. “He was a friend to us, and he was there to support us. He wanted all of us to succeed. We knew he was cheering for us.”
Lang’s passing left Jones sad but hopeful. “It’s a loss that he isn’t there to help with transportation, but it’s a greater loss because of the kind of human being he was,” Jones says. “I’m glad we have the hope that we’ll spend an eternity together. While my heart is saddened, in the end, there will be joy.”
A legacy of love for Union College
Jason Moses ’03 recalls that Lang recognized he was new the first trip they took together. “He introduced himself, asked where I was from, and made me feel at home,” said Moses, whose participation in college music groups saw him spending multiple days on Lang’s bus. “We talked about driving and how the open road allows one to see and experience what God has created,” he remembered. “You could tell he truly enjoyed driving us, and when approached about it, he was almost sheepish, as if it was his duty instead of a generous volunteer ministry,” he says
Lang’s selflessness still impacts Moses. “He had a love for Union that made others want to have that same love,” he said. “Mr. Lang embodied what Union is all about. We should all strive to follow in his footsteps and give as much as we can in our own ways to the college we love.”
Loving others through acts of service
Each year from 1982 to 2002, professors Susan Zimmermann and Dr. Virginia Simmons took education majors to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. “We didn’t have to pay a penny for his services,” she said. “That was a wonderful savings for the college and for the students, and it gave students a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
She shares that Lang’s bus was a rolling extension of the classroom, with Lang himself teaching by quiet illustration. “He was a wonderful example,” Zimmermann said. “He participated in the activities, and he treated the teachers, students, and our Native American brothers and sisters with respect. He taught us there is no socioeconomic class when it comes to respect.”
Zimmermann recalled how Lang used his handyman skills at the Pine Ridge mission. “He could have said, “I’m here to drive the bus; I don’t have to do this,” she said. “But he worked alongside the students to make a difference for the people.”
Zimmermann mourns the loss of her friend as she celebrates the lasting impact of his ministry. “Jerome’s biggest contribution was his example of loving his neighbors as himself,” she said. “We were glad he let us ride his bus, but his impact was so much more. It was who he was inside.”
By Lauren Bongard Schwarz