A fisherman, and a retired engineer, Perry Whitney, 69, these days is a school bus driver. He lives in Big Lake, just northwest of the Twin Cities, and every day for five hours, he picks up kids and drops them off. Driving a school bus in retirement is a good thing, he says. He likes it.
Whitney’s bus is the smaller size, the kind that carries relatively few kids. But the bus is yellow and has all the bells and whistles, including a lift for kids in wheelchairs. That’s important because the kids Whitney picks up and drops off often have particular needs. Or, as they are sometimes called, special needs.
For a few years now, Whitney has stopped at a house in Corcoran, also northwest of the Twin Cities, to pick up three brothers: Omar, Justas and Vanya Emery.
“It wasn’t long after I met them,” Whitney said, “that on Mondays, the boys would ask me what I did over the weekend. I’d tell them I went fishing.”
The brothers couldn’t have known, but their bus driver was a bit of an angling expert. As a kid growing up in Minneapolis, he often traveled with his father to Mille Lacs to chase walleyes, and can remember catching stringers of the fat fish.
“Dad started me out with a cane pole,” he said. “I could catch more fish with that old cane pole than a lot of people could trolling.”
Such expertise would prove useful years later when, at his church, Whitney belonged to a fishing club, and on Wednesday evenings would load his boat with kids to see what was biting.
Watching the little ones’ eyes twinkle when they caught sunnies or crappies or bass was priceless, Whitney said, and he replicated those expressions many times over years later when he helped form the Minnesota chapter of a national bass fishing club that pairs adults with kids for angling competitions.
Next to benefit from Whitney’s expertise would be Omar, who was born in Jamaica, Justas, who was born in Lithuania, and Vanya, who was born in Russia.
Adopted from overseas orphanages by Rick and Kay Emery of Corcoran, the boys are part of a truly blended family that also includes Jamie, 39, the Emerys’ biological son, and Kimberly, 33, who decades ago was adopted from a Korean orphanage.
“Some people wouldn’t think about adopting kids with disabilities,” said Rick Emery, a manufacturing engineer. “My wife and I were happy to do it.”
Fast-forward now to Saturday, opener of the Minnesota bass-fishing season, a day that Omar, Justas and Vanya anticipated with enthusiasm. And for good reason: Together with their dad, they would join Whitney for a day of casting, retrieving … and catching. Just as they had done previously when fishing with Whitney.
“I take them bass fishing because that’s what I know best,” Whitney said. “To me, while bass fishing, you’re casting and doing something all the time. Walleye fishing is … so much more abstract.”
So it was Saturday that Whitney, along with Rick, Omar, Justas and Vanya, found themselves in Whitney’s 16-foot boat on a lake not far from the town of Maple Lake.
Whitney’s plan was for the boys to cast Texas-rigged plastic worms of his special choosing.
“They smell like licorice and drive bass nuts,” he said.
The day unfolded and fish were caught — one 4-pounder, three 3-pounders and a mess of 2-pounders.
As each was reeled toward the boat, Omar’s eyes lit up, as did those of Justas and Vanya.
Whitney knew they would.
“Normally we release fish we catch, but the boys wanted to show their mom what they caught and have a fish fry,” Whitney said.
With exclamation, the outing ended when Rick Emery took a photo of the fish, along with his smiling sons and the also-smiling fisherman-turned-engineer-turned-bus-driver who picks them up for school every day.