Astrike leaves at sunset
Don Astrike bids farewell to people as Southridge’s bus driver after driving some members of the Southridge Class 3A State Championship baseball team on June 23.
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG – For eight Southridge seniors, they were able to crown their high school careers by winning the Class 3A State Championship on June 22.
People stood the next day on the sidewalk leading to the League Stadium parking lot, cheering for the bus carrying members of their Raiders – as police cars and fire engines had sirens to escort them. Cars honked and people waved and thumbs up as the bus arrived.
The Winning State couldn’t have been a better start for these seniors, but the players weren’t the only ones having one.
Don Astrike brought the players back for the last time. The 1955 Huntingburg graduate was believed to have retired from bus driving for the Southwest Dubois County School Corporation since 2014, but added another seven years to the decades of travel, sporting events and memories forged from connections with student-athletes and coaches.
He thought, “This is it, Donnie,” as some of those he was driving helped close the windows of the bus. Astrike was about to close the bus door, but Raiders coach Gene Mattingly wasn’t about to let him go just yet.
“The coach yelled, ‘Donnie, don’t close the door yet!’ “, did he declare. “So he yelled at the fans and said, ‘Give Donnie goodbye,’ and they all started screaming, thanking me and stuff. A lot of people made me stand on the bus making them nodded, thanking them and I said, “Go Raiders!” and off I went.
Astrike couldn’t have thought of a better start, as he led the Raider Nation cheers to Victory Field, with his three daughters with him: Debbie, Janet Putney and Cheryl Hinton.
“None of them are baseball fans, but they just fell in love with this team,” he said.
Janet lives in Columbus and Cheryl took a short trip as a resident of Indianapolis, but Debbie left Tennessee that morning and returned to Volunteer State that night to be at work the next day.
Margie, the matriarch of the family, joined them in spirit that night. The year 2020 has brought hardship to countless people around the world, and for this family it was no different. They lost Margie on October 29 at the age of 82.
For Debbie, Janet and Cheryl, they said goodbye to someone who helped them come into the world. For Don, he said goodbye to someone he called his co-pilot – who accompanied him and sat behind him on so many of those trips when he was driving the Raiders.
Struggles sometimes persist with Don, who said goodbye to his co-pilot eight months ago this week, and was at times on the verge of tears as he sat at his table speaking to the Herald on Monday about his wife he had lost just off their 61st wedding anniversary.
“She loved sports and all that,” Don said. “In fact, in the baseball game on Tuesday when we won it, I broke down – I started crying because I was thinking about her and I was so happy for the kids and stuff.”
Don imagined that Margie would have also stood up, screaming and crying if she had been there for the state championship game. But he received texts from people noting the tears streaming down her face and people telling her she was watching.
The loss of a spouse, especially the one close to 61, can take a toll on some people, but Don thanks his family and friends for helping him through this ordeal.
“We spent almost 65 years together,” he said. “I joked with everyone at the funeral, I said, ‘It took me four years to convince her I was the right one.'”
In the beginning
The state championship set the course for a career that began in the early 1970s, when he had a business near his alma mater – and some of the bus drivers at the time asked him if he would consider replacing them someday.
“All you had to do was go to the licensing branch, I think maybe I took a quiz – 10 questions, and that’s it,” he said. “And of course, that’s how I started.”
He spent time on routes in the early 1970s and also unexpectedly took over a bus driven by Dick Grewe after taking the post of Southridge keeper – and before he knew it, the number of buses that ‘it had continued to rise.
Don’s tenure as a bus driver for Southridge began in the 1983-84 school year – he narrowly missed out on second place on the Class A football team in 1982, but just before l The boys’ basketball team made it to the Final Four in 1985 and 1986.
“When I started doing it, that was the first thing I said to the athletic director (Jim Bardwell at the time), and when he asked me, I said, ‘Well, i will try it, but one thing about it – my wife has to follow.
His daughter, Janet, graduated in 1986 with members of this team. He remembers the trip it was to going to Washington and coming back with the team that won the first regional championship in the program’s history in 1985.
“From what I could see, there were only lighthouses behind us,” he said.
Don was surprised by the friendliness of the student-athletes and spoke of the parents who thanked him after the season for taking their children to and from safe places.
“They didn’t even need a coach – they were so good they could train themselves,” he said.
Don is deeply rooted in his faith, just like Margie was. He considers himself to be in good health, but that does not mean that the navigation has always been smooth. Don was also an administrator of Patoka Township for a long time, and there was a time when wearing the many hats he wore became a bit too much.
“In 1990, I started having seizures,” Don said. “I hadn’t told my wife yet. It wasn’t too bad, but I had those spells where I was starting to get dizzy, and I could tell it was going to happen. So I knew what to do if I was driving – I had to recover. When I had that, and they were bad, I couldn’t sit in that chair, I would fall off the chair and things.
“I was walking out of school for my bus ride one evening near the cemetery and one of the spells hit me,” he continued. “And I had to pull over on the freeway, turn on my turn signals, put the emergency brake on and I was sitting there holding the wheel.”
The police were nearby and he knew them. They wrote a welfare check to ask him if he was okay, but he insisted he was okay, and he did.
However, the police called and informed his superiors of what had happened, and Don feared he could no longer drive. For a while he didn’t and he spent time seeking treatment.
“I remember sitting in Jim Bardwell’s office and crying because I thought my driving days were over and everything,” he said. “Jim said, ‘Donnie, we’ve got no one, you’re going to come back.'”
Margie was a nurse and asked when they were in Evansville if it was an inner ear problem. He learned from a specialist that he did indeed have an inner ear problem.
Don said some cases are terrible, although his was not, but stress was a factor – and he told the specialist everything he was doing.
“I always ran my garage – the repairs,” Don said. “I was an administrator, I ran my bus lines, I took the football game trips at night. I would come back at ten, eleven at night and go down to the furniture factory, and work three or four hours to finish the shift there and everything – come home, maybe go to bed at two o’clock clock and get up at six o’clock the next morning.
“I had two daughters (Janet and Cheryl) at Hanover College – and I was burning a candle at both ends,” he added. “And that was the problem.”
It was one of his worst times, and he had to stop some things, but the problem finally went away.
To drive the bus for as long as he did, Don knew he had to love children and play sports, which he does. He even played a bit as a basketball player in college and for his freshman year at Huntingburg.
“I quit my second year because of a conflict with a coach, which I have regretted all my life,” he said. “I told a lot of kids later about how much I regretted it – for quitting, and that they should never think about doing it, somehow make it right. other.”
One person he spoke to was a Raiders basketball player who wanted to quit playing. Instead, she stayed with her and helped Southridge win their first State Championship in any sport with the Class 2A State Crown in 1998.
Don, Margie and the community all cheered her and the rest of her teammates on as they brought the grand prize to Huntingburg. Don and Margie were big fans of Larry Bird, and Bird was coaching the Indiana Pacers at the time.
Southridge triumphed in the former Pacers’ playground in Market Square Arena, and the Astrikes brought in Bird’s old Boston Celtics jersey to stand tall while cheering on the Raider Girls.
In fact, a photo of Don holding the jersey appeared in the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News book “Larry Bird, An Indiana Legend”.
“I couldn’t believe it, I thought they were laughing at me,” Don said.
This moment of the state championship game is forever captured in the book. A tour of Don’s garage will show framed photographs from that day, including one with Margie and the jersey, as well as another depicting the State Championship trophy.
Look around the garage and a lot of things stand out – these photos, numerous photo albums, signed baseballs and basketballs, and her plaque as a Spirit of Southridge award recipient.
You might have to take a closer look, however, to notice a moment when this Southridge girls basketball player who wanted to hang up was there for Don after Don was there for her.
He had a bout with prostate cancer in the late 1990s, and on one of the shelves is a mug he received from the gamer who was waiting for him after his surgery. On the mug is a heart with the message “There is a place in my heart for you!” “
“She was a special girl, and I think maybe I helped her stay a little bit,” he said of the player.
To move on
People lucky enough to live to be 84 probably don’t see themselves as an 84-year-old, but that’s exactly what Don considered himself and also one of the boys when he brought the limbs back. of the Raiders from Victory Field to League Stadium. . He honked and waved to everyone, as Janet got on the bus and took lots of pictures on the way home.
He still has one year left for his term of office and is free after working in the morning. Don could go spend a few days with his daughters or recall his memories with his photo galleries.
Don’t let it be known, however, his bus driving days are over for good.
“I was joking with my three daughters the other day that I might reconsider this retirement business, and they were like, ‘Oh no you aren’t! “Don said.” So I’m retired. “