Mt Lebanon Magazine

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Mt Lebanon Magazine

The official magazine of Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania

55 years later: Mr. DeHaas retires

Portrait of a man in a blue shirt standing next to a car that says "student driver" on it
Bob DeHaas retired this year after teaching 55 years worth of novices how to drive.

If the measure of a happy life is the number of other lives you’ve positively affected, Bob DeHaas must be a happy man indeed. By his own estimate, in his 55 years as a driver’s ed teacher at Mt. Lebanon High School, he has taught more than 25,000 student drivers. This translates to hundreds of thousands of miles in the passenger seat next to nervous, reckless or overconfident teenagers who he turned into safe drivers. 

“I’ve seen everything,” confided DeHaas, who was also a phys ed teacher. “I don’t have any nerves anymore.”

In 1967, he was student-teaching at the high school, fresh out of Slippery Rock State Teachers College (now University) with a B.S. in physical education and recreation and a minor in safety (he later got a master’s degree in safety from the University of Pittsburgh). He received four job offers and was just about to accept one from Gateway High School in Monroeville when former school superintendent Dr. Joseph Keifer called. “He offered me a job replacing a driving teacher in Mt. Lebanon. I had to say, ‘Please hold on,’ and I ran out and got the acceptance letter to Gateway out of my mailbox just as the mailman was about to take it. I told Dr. Keifer, and he said, ‘Timing is everything!’”

In 1982, the district removed driver’s ed from the curriculum for budgetary reasons, and DeHaas  began teaching phys ed. However, he convinced the school board to reinstate the course as part of adult education, with DeHaas as the instructor. Eventually he became certified through the state’s Department of Transportation to administer driver’s tests for high school students as well. 

“The kids were used to me, and they wouldn’t get nervous when they took the test,” said DeHaas, who retired from classroom work in 2003, but has continued to teach in-person driving. “The instructors at the driver’s test center were more intimidating.”

His daughter, Becky DeHaas Snatchko, remembers a different side of her father as driving instructor. “I will never forget the day my dad took me to take my driver’s test for the license,” she said recently. “It was a very cold, rainy day in December. On the way to the testing center, my dad had me stop at an old junkyard. He made me get out of the car in the pouring rain to go look at a smashed vehicle that four young kids had been killed in, due to drunk driving. He wanted me to see it, so that I’d never forget what could happen if I ever decided to make that choice. And I’ve never forgotten that sight.”

In the adult education school, DeHaas also had novice adult drivers and those with points on their licenses. “Sometimes it was parents of my students and they asked me not to tell their kids,” he said. “They were upset they had to be there, but then they ended up telling me they were glad they had come.” 

DeHaas has apparently made an impression on his students, because he’s been recognized in faraway places. “I’m lying on the beach in Florida, and a guy comes up and says he was my student. My nephew got to talking with someone on a ski lift in Colorado and it turns out he was one of my kids. I’m in a store in South Carolina and meet a former student who’s now a race car driver!” he laughed. “That was a real experience!”

Requesting memories of DeHaas on a Mt. Lebanon Facebook page brought a deluge of responses and stories. Among them: driving to his mother’s house on Mt. Washington at Christmastime for homemade cookies; stopping at McDonald’s drive-through for a snack; driving in South Park while maintaining a strict speed of 25 mph; the thrill of being handed proof of passing the driver’s test.

“I always tried to make it fun for them,” he said. “I’ve had a good time with the kids, and I made sure they had a good time, too. Every single one of them is unique and different, and I tried to treat them as individuals. 

Ray Schrader, coordinator of adult education for the school district, sums up DeHaas’ legacy succinctly: “Bob has been a staple of the Mt. Lebanon High School driver education program. He was part of the program long before I started, and students, parents, and their grandparents associate his name with our longstanding tradition of driver education excellence on the road.”

His daughter believes that his strength as a teacher come from his approachability. “I think he has a way about him that sets people at ease, right from the start,” she said. “He’s calm and soft-spoken, yet direct and easy to relate to. He has worked with teenagers for so long, he can almost read the student before they sit down in the car with him.

“He has so much knowledge from working with students over the years. He’s pretty much seen and heard it all. There’s not much that a student can say that would shock him. I think students love him because he is a down-to-earth, fair guy. He keeps things positive. And whether he’s teaching or not, that’s just how he is.”

His plans for retirement center around his family: wife Beverly, to whom he’s been married 54 years; son Brian, his wife, and their three children; and daughter Becky, her husband, and their two children. DeHaas recently finished teaching his fifth and final grandchild, Colby, to drive and watched with pride as he passed his drivers test. A family camping trip to Florida and Myrtle Beach is planned for this summer. “Beaches and family!” he said happily.

Looking back at his long career, Bob DeHaas is reflective. “I knew I’d never make a lot of money. But working with kids was a great reward. What I’ll miss most is that interaction with them. Kids keep me young!”

Mr. DeHaas’ Students Remember Among the 57 responses to a Facebook request for memories of Bob DeHaas:


“He was so calm, kind, and patient. I have a new appreciation for him now that I have taught my own teenagers.”

“He taught my husband, his brothers, my daughter, and myself how to drive.”

“He once told my wife, ‘No one ever died parking.’”

“I remember talking to him during one driving lesson about when he coached Mt. Lebanon’s baseball team. He mentioned the song, Cat’s in the Cradle as having an impact on him at that time, when he decided to step away from coaching to spend more time with his young daughter and family.”

“All I know is when I have to parallel park, I say in my head, ‘Do it the Bob DeHaas way.’ Every single time!”

“He’d always make me go run errands, lol. I know it was a teaching moment, but he severely underestimated how short my reach was (and still is) for the drive-thru bank!”

“He used to stop at his mom’s house during Xmas and get her Christmas cookies for us! Awesome!”

 

“I’m 53 and Mr. DeHaas drives with me every day still.”

 

“Mr. DeHaas actually taught my mother, myself, and three of my children to drive! Congratulations to him on his retirement!”

 

“Just all-around good memories of Mr. DeHaas as a teacher and instructor. He used the instructor brakes at least once with me somewhere on Greentree Road.”

 

“I remember my last session with him was 3-point turns. We wrapped up my last session and he handed me my license! I was shocked!! I was thrilled! He was a great instructor!”

 

“I LOVED having him for drivers ed. I remember him saying during class when he introduced himself to us that we can’t scare him. Really put me at ease. And I also loved that we drove in an unmarked car and not with a ‘student driver’ sign on the roof of the car. LOL. And then somehow the radio came up in conversation and he said we may as well put it on now because you’ll be listening to it while driving around with your friends. On point.”

 

“I had drivers ed during lunch hour. We would go to the bank so he could take care of his business and then always to McD’s for lunch! About 26 years later, my son had him!”

 

“Sweetest, most patient man as he taught so many kids to drive. I don’t know how he did it!! Congratulations on your retirement, Mr. DeHaas!”

 

“First time behind the wheel he takes us to a busy interstate to get on and off ramps. It was scary. But I’m not scared any more!! Very patient and kind man.”

 

“He was so calm, kind, and patient. I have a new appreciation for him now that I have taught my own teenagers.”

 

“All I know is when I have to parallel park, I say in my head, ‘Do it the Bob DeHaas way.’ Every single time!”

 

“Everyone wanted his gym class, no matter what sport he was teaching.”

 

“I would never have learned to drive if it wasn’t for Mr. DeHaas!!! My dad didn’t have the patience to teach me. Thank you so much, Mr. DeHaas, for teaching me how to drive!! If you can see this, Dad, thank you for paying for the class!!”

 

“I’m a confident driver because of Mr. DeHaas. Immediately we were on the parkway and driving the curves and hills in Mt. Washington. Wonderful, patient man.”

 

“He was my drivers ed teacher as well. Down Banksville, merge onto parkway, through the tunnels, go four lanes over, around Three Rivers Stadium, over the West End, merge back onto parkway, take Banksville exit. I remember the entire route with that man!”

 

“Looking back though, whether it was gym class or driving lessons (both of which I passed!), he offered us a sense of autonomy, trust, and independence other adults didn’t at the time. Everyone loved DeHaas!”

 

“He taught me to drive (class of ’74)—trips to Mt. Washington. Then, all three of my kids . . . ’01, ’04, and ’08. Congratulations, Mr. DeHaas! Enjoy your retirement. And I don’t know how you did it .  . .I could barely stand being in the car with my own kids when they got their permits.”

 

“I loved him!! I repeat his favorite quote, ‘Driver eyes on the road—the rest of you look at that huge bridge’ (or whatever). He was too fun. He took us to Mt. Washington and ran in to say hello to his grandmother who lived there. He came out with candy for us all. He was a great teacher. Best of luck.”

 

“Mr. DeHaas taught me, my husband, and my daughter how to drive. He’s the best. Congratulations to him on his retirement!”

 

“Oh my, Mr. DeHaas is a legend and saint for teaching us all to drive . . . And for being such a great teacher. He was always so calm when I clearly was a driver in training!”

 

“Mr. DeHaas, the legendary drivers ed teacher, taught me how to drive. I graduated in 1972. He was so patient and kind to all of us. You could tell he loved his job! He was a great teacher. I hope he has a very happy retirement filled with all the happiness that he brought to all his students.”

 

“He was always so kind and friendly; great human and coach!!

 

“Yes to the parallel parking! Still do it his way and nail it! And even get nods from impressed strangers along busy city roads over the years. And thanks for his patience (my dad was the complete opposite)! I had him for both PE and drivers ed and have definitely wondered and thought fondly of him over the years. He made a difference and helped me feel confident—something I struggled with for years. Congrats to him on a truly impactful career and influencing the lives of so many of us.”

 

“Absolutely love Mr. DeHaas.”

 

 

Comments

  1. Mr. DeHaas loved his students and they loved him. He really made a difference in the lives of all 25,000 students. Adults loved him, too. Best of Happy Retirement to Mr. DeHaas!

  2. Happy retirement Bob. I still remember, in 1994, sitting in the cafeteria with you and Otto, with us howling as we remembered scenes from Grumpy Old Men. Good times. Best wishes for a long and happy life!!!!

  3. Thanks for your patience, humor and persistence in helping all of us learn to drive. Your bravery and longevity in this position is amazing! Happy Retirement and enjoy yourself!

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