Over the past 32 years, Arlene Bush has witnessed scores of Bloomington students being honored at monthly school board meetings, usually for some kind of academic or athletic accomplishment. They rarely left without a hug from Bush.

Last week, it was Bush’s turn to be honored — and hugged — for decades worth of service to the school board, the Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations.

“Thank you, dear, you’re the best Bloomingtonite there is,” said Mayor Gene Winstead.

In November, Bush, 82, was defeated in the local school board race, ending one of the longest school board tenures in Minnesota.

It’s been a difficult time for Bush, who admits she was disappointed to be forced off the school board.

But surrounded by her six daughters, she felt that sense of loss replaced by joy as some of Bloomington’s most civically engaged citizens heaped accolade after accolade on Bush at a reception in her honor Thursday.

Among them: The school district has decided to name the room where the school board meets “The Arlene Bush Board Room.”

Bush, a fixture at Bloomington school events, was also given a lifetime pass to all athletic and student events.

“These are very rare, Arlene,” Superintendent Les Fujitake said, presenting her with the pass. “In fact, I’ve never seen one.”

Bush also received a commendation from Gov. Mark Dayton, was named the next Heritage Days Parade grand marshal, and was named a honorary chamber member “forever and ever.”

“I’ve always said I’m so thankful to be on the Bloomington school board because we’ve had such wonderful people,” she said.

Plunging right in

A graduate of the former West High in Minneapolis, Bush and her husband, Jack, moved to Bloomington in 1957 from California.

As soon as her daughters began attending Bloomington schools, Bush began volunteering. She was first elected to the board in 1981.

It was a baptism by fire as the district went through a reorganization due to declining enrollment.

Closing a high school is never easy. But when your daughter is a freshman at that school — in this case, Lincoln High School — that decision becomes infinitely more difficult.

“I think some of her friends have never forgiven me for that,” Bush joked.

Even after her daughters graduated, Bush continued to be involved in Bloomington schools, both on the board, as a classroom volunteer, and as the ultimate sports fan.

“Her daughter once said, ‘My mom was the first soccer mom in the city of Bloomington,’” Winstead said. “But none of her girls played soccer.”

Passionately committed to education, Bush also served on the school boards of two intermediate school districts — 917 and 287 — which serve large numbers of special education students. She also served on the board of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.

Similarly, she was on the Minnesota School Boards Association’s board of directors for several years. Last month, the association decided to rename an award it gives to members who earn 1,000 hours of training after Bush. It’s rarefied territory.

“It’s like a double diamond status,” said Kirk Schneidawind, the association’s executive director.

A tireless volunteer

It’s not just school board work that has consumed Bush. She’s also tirelessly worked as chamber volunteer, clocking almost 32 years of service there.

“Arlene is the Energizer Bunny of volunteers for our organization,” said Maureen Scallen Failor.

Failor said the chamber has no plans to let Bush retire. It was a sentiment echoed by several others who have worked with her over the decades.

Indeed, Bush says she plans to stay active. Don’t be surprised if she gives her new lifetime pass to Bloomington school events a workout. She also plans to travel and spend time with her daughters and 14 grandchildren.

“It’s all been so good,” Bush said of her service to the school board and volunteer work. “Mostly, I just feel very fortunate.”