Fifth-grader Emily Bishop walks in Van Buren Elementary School’s inaugural Heart Walk. The walk was held in memory of Bishop’s grandfather, Von, who was a longtime teacher and bus driver at the school. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Staff Writer

VAN BUREN — It all came together: On National Walking Day, Van Buren Elementary School held its first Heart Walk and surpassed the all-time total of $50,000 raised for the American Heart Association.

Absent, but not forgotten, was Von Bishop, a longtime teacher and bus driver who died in December from the effects of a stroke and heart disease.

Wednesday’s Heart Walk was held in honor of Bishop, a man who had sponsored every student who asked him to when the school held jump rope fundraisers for the same cause. Decorating the fence along the track were red hearts bearing students’ names and “I’m walking in honor of Von Bishop.”

Von was giving, selfless and kind, said his wife, Bev Bishop, who visited during the fifth-graders’ time on the track along with her son and daughter-in-law, Eric and Jen Bishop.

“And it wasn’t like he was wealthy,” said Julie Breitigam, the elementary physical education teacher. “That’s just the kind of man he was.”

Red hearts reading “I’m walking in honor of Von Bishop” adorn the fence surrounding the track. (Photo by Randy Roberts)

Von’s contributions helped the school raise nearly $50,000 since 1999.

Breitigam wanted to pass that milestone before she retires in a few years. She organized the new event as a way to honor Von and make sure that goal was reached.

This year, middle and high school students participated, too. Despite the schedule for standardized testing, the district made it work, Breitigam said.

Donations have poured in, from alumni who have moved away down to the kindergartner who withdrew $2.52 — plus half of a dollar bill — from the piggybank.

“I want you to feel like you’ve helped,” Breitigam tells the students, no matter what amount they’re able to give.

The kids were what made the jump rope events so special to Von, his family said.

Though he was a farmer, too, driving the bus and teaching was his “true calling,” Bev said. “He’d leave the classroom and come out and drive buses.”

Von was a “big friendly giant,” said fifth-grader Emily Bishop, his granddaughter and Eric and Jen’s daughter. Her brothers, high school students Joshua and Kaleb, participated later in the day.

He was a “very special man” who “loved unconditionally — not just his family, but others he dealt with,” Bev said.

“I’ve always said, if there were more men like Von, there would never be divorces.”

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