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Finding love in an unlikely place

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Categories: Blog, Community

Young couple sitting on a bus stop benchFor most people, riding the bus leads somewhere physical. Somewhere real. Maybe someplace rather perfunctory.

You take the bus to work. You ride it to go shopping. You hop onboard to get to class on the other side of campus.

For Eva Phan, a CATA bus took her to the next chapter in her life. She met her now-fiancé sitting in a bus shelter in front of MSU’s Brody Hall.

“It’s become a running joke in our relationship,” Eva said. “’If you want to find love, you have to go to the bus stop!’”

Ten years ago, Eva was a freshman studying human biology at Michigan State. She had to get to a chemistry test across campus but was unsure of the exam’s location. She saw Jeff Boore waiting for the bus and recognized him from her class.

“I followed him off the bus,” she said. “We were kind of wandering around separately, and he asked if I was in his class.” She told him she was, and they discovered neither of them knew how to get to Conrad Hall. This was before smartphones, so no one could do a quick check on Google Maps.

They went into the wrong building, and someone showed them the way.

“The whole time I was trying to chat him up, and he was not having it,” Eva said, laughing. “I thought, ‘He’s not that nice!’ I thought I’d never talk to him again.”

Later in the semester, she needed chemistry help, so she reached out to him on a whim.

They hit it off and talked all night. And when they went on their first date?

“We took the CATA bus to Noodles & Co.!”

Eva and Jeff dated all through college – she finished her bachelor’s degree in 2012; he stuck around for a master’s degree and finished in 2013. Their careers took them to San Francisco, where they live now. Last July, Jeff proposed.

When it came time to shoot engagement photos, their photographer asked if there was any particular spot that was meaningful to them.

“We told her, ‘Actually, the bus stop,’” Eva said.

They posed in the bus shelter, and they even climbed on an empty bus for a quick photo shoot, thanks to a friendly and accommodating driver.

Eva shared one of the photos on Facebook with the caption, “We found love in a hopeless place,” referencing the Rihanna/Calvin Harris song. But they don’t see the bus stop as hopeless at all. To the contrary.

“The bus stop means a lot to us,” Eva said. “Every single time we come back to campus we go see it. It makes us happy. It brings us back to being freshmen.”

     Young couple holding hands inside CATA bus

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A Legacy of Compassion

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Categories: Community, Employees

Two men standing next to each other

Jason (left) with brother Jeremy (right).

It’s a gift when your co-workers feel like family.

It can be an even greater gift when your co-workers are your family.

“Jason and I worked side-by-side for eight years,” CATA bus driver Jeremy Baragar said about his younger brother.

Jeremy will mark his 20-year anniversary with CATA in October.

Jason never will.

In 2014, while riding his motorcycle after work, Jason was hit by a driver who never saw him coming. He was killed.

Jason’s family knew he was a registered organ donor, and he was able to donate his heart, his liver and both kidneys; he saved the lives of four men.

“Jay just loved to help people,” Jeremy said. “He was always there for people. He could smooth anything out.”

The Holt Community Foundation, a non-profit started by Dr. John Girdwood, teamed up with Jeremy to start the Jason Baragar Memorial Shootout. The event allows Jeremy to honor his brother while supporting the tightknit community they grew up in.

This year’s event will be held on April 20, and it will benefit both the Holt Pop-up Pantry, which helps students who are in need of food, toiletries or other necessities, and the Holt Varsity Baseball team. The current coach, Keith Allen, was lifelong friend and former teammate of Jason.

“I’m just trying to fulfill needs like he would have,” Jeremy said.

The daylong event features a 16-team tournament bracket, trophies and T-shirts. Last year’s event raised $7,000 for the pop-up pantry. And from the beginning, CATA has been the title sponsor.

“CATA has always been so good to me; so good to us,” Jeremy said. “Before Jason’s accident, a longtime driver died of cancer. So, CATA created a memorial wall to honor people who died during their service there.”

“They’ve been such a huge support to me and my family. The former CEO even gave Jason’s eulogy.”

Jeremy said the fact that Jason also worked at CATA has helped keep his brother’s memory alive when he’s at work.

“We speak about him a lot. It was a blessing to work next to Jay for eight years and have an employer who really supports me,” Jeremy said. “And the fact that they’re helping me do good for my community in his name means a lot.”

Baragar family viewing CATA's memorial wall 

The Baragar family viewing CATA's memorial wall in 2015. 

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Ron DeLeon: Be kind, always

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Categories: Blog, Community, Employees

Bus driver with two little boys in CATA uniforms

Rin (left) and Ron's son, Thiago (right), smile with Ron. 

To say that Ron DeLeon enjoys his work is a significant understatement.

“I love driving, I love transportation, I love dealing with people,” Ron says, practically unprompted.

“I love my job!”

Ron has been driving for CATA going on 21 years. The Sexton High School grad is an animated guy with a passion for life, laughter and storytelling. And his passengers give him a steady stream of tales to share.

In the span of 10 minutes, he bounces from one story to another, including one from 2016 about a then 4-year-old immigrant boy named Rin who loved chewing gum.

“That one really got me,” he said.

Ron often drives routes through Michigan State University’s campus. For a time, when he drove past Bessey Hall in the morning, he saw a young boy and his mom waiting for the bus. The boy would always wave.

“One day, I stopped and gave him candy – I asked his mom first,” Ron said. “So, it turned into, whenever I saw him, I stopped to give him gum, candy ...  whatever.”

On one particular morning, Ron pulled over with his usual treat, but Rin gave Ron a pack of gum instead. His mom took a picture to commemorate the moment. She shared the post on social media, along with a story that got Ron’s attention.

She shared that she and her son had only been in the U.S. about three months, and her son was having a hard time adjusting to everything – including learning to speak English.

That morning, he didn’t want to go to school, but his encounter with Ron made his day, his mom wrote.

“You never know how you’ll impact someone’s life,” Ron said. “A kid waving at a bus – you wouldn’t assume he was having a difficult time.”

Now Rin has play dates with Ron’s son, Thiago. He has adjusted to his new school and enjoys going every day.  

What prompts riders to share so many pieces of their lives with Ron?

“I just enjoy talking to people,” he said. “I didn’t expect that when you’re that warm and receptive, you’re like a bartender or a therapist. They tell me everything.”

Ron mostly drives bus routes through Michigan State’s campus and is well-known by many students. He's also been named Best CATA Bus Driver in the City Pulse’s Top of the Town contest for four years in a row.

“I take my responsibilities seriously,” Ron said. “The safety of the riders is in my hands, but I love what I do.

“I’ve never had a bad day yet.”

Child's crayon drawing that reads: "Thank you. I heart 26."

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