Long-lost siblings discover each other, leading to unique relationship between trucker, students
When Howard Elementary School second-grade teacher Dianne Taylor found out she had a 61-year-old half-brother last year, it was a shock — but she’s had some time to process it.
Over the past school year, she’s gotten to know her half-brother, Randy Gillam, who’s a truck driver for Tyson Foods, after inviting him to be a “trucker buddy” for her second-graders. His job was easy: he just had to mail postcards to her classroom from the different states he drove through.
He didn’t disappoint. Since the beginning of the school year, Taylor’s class has received more than 100 postcards, covering all but seven states.
“I suggested, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ And I really thought it would be a postcard here and there, but he took it and ran,” said Taylor.
Gillam sent his first postcard on Aug. 14 from Michigan, and he kept them coming. Soon, Taylor had enough cards that she created a display on a wall that said “Trucker Buddy Randy B. Gillam, Where Are You Now?” Postcards were tacked to the wall and connected with yarn to the state on a map of the U.S.
The Midwest and east side of the map filled up quickly, as Tyson Foods delivers to those areas and uses outside carriers to deliver to the west coast, said Gillam.
Gillam kept hearing from Taylor about how excited the students were when postcards arrived, and he said he really wanted to be able to give them postcards from the entire U.S., not just part of it. So, Gillam went to his dispatcher, Fleet Supervisor Adam Henry, explained what he was doing, and said that he would really like to get a west coast route.
And he got it.
“They said, ‘Yeah, we’ll get you a load. So I went to California immediately,” he said. “As soon as I presented that, they got back on the phone with me in 10 minutes and said they have a load.”
Now, the map is nearly full.
While Gillam has been communicating with the students for nearly an entire school year, he never had met them — or his half-sister — until last week. Gillam made a stop at Howard Elementary School for not only an educational opportunity for the students but also a family reunion.
Taylor said she was nervous to meet him for the first time.
“I was so nervous. My butterflies had butterflies in their stomach, but as soon as he texted me that he was here, it all went away,” she said.
Taylor’s students had interview questions prepared for Gillam, and they asked him everything from what’s the longest trip he’s made (3,500 miles) and what he eats while on the road (he cooks a lot on a one-burner stove) to how many pets he has (six dogs and one cat) and how many children he has (one son, two daughters, and six grandchildren).
Afterward, he took the students outside to tour his semi.
“I never saw inside a real-life semi before. It’s just like I imagined it would be. It’s so cool,” said second-grade student Ava Eytcheson after she jumped out of the truck.
Back inside, Gillem gave all of the students gift bags he made that contained neon sock caps with “Tyson” written across them and candy.
Student Dakota Gibson said it was exciting to meet the man behind the postcards.
“I learned a lot about him. I learned that he’s very kind and that he has a lot of kids,” she said.
Gillam said he’s had more fun with the project than the kids have. He thanked Tyson Foods for making the program possible and for allowing him to give the students a tour of the country right from their classroom.
Going forward, Taylor hopes Gillam continues to be a trucker buddy for her students, as she said it’s been not only “a treat” but also an educational opportunity.
“[The postcards] help us dream and imagine of places we have not seen with our own eyes. Through these postcards, students enjoy learning geography, climate, and what states are known for and the things these states hold dear. The postcards give the students a meaningful base to initiate additional exploration of our great nation,” she said.
In addition, the class did “trucker buddy math” that incorporated telling time, money values, calculating miles traveled, miles to go, and time intervals. For the final project of the year, the students will create graphs based off of the postcards and have a chance to earn postcards from the “wall of fame.”
Now, she’s looking forward to continuing to build her relationship with her half-brother and hopes he’ll continue to be a “trucker buddy” for her students.