Dec 20th 2019 - 2am.

In her 24th year of driving bus for Brainerd Public Schools, Marilyn Tepley smiles from the side window of her bus Thursday, Dec. 12, after finishing her morning route. As the holidays approach each year, Tepley decorates her bus and dons her homemade Mrs. Claus suit. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

From the outside, Marilyn Tepleys school bus looks like any other big, yellow shuttle carrying children to and from school.

Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students
Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students

But when those bus doors open in December, Mrs. Claus herself greets students with her long red coat and festive hat, and welcomes them aboard her yellow sleigh, decked out with strings of garland, bright Christmas lights and shiny ornaments hanging all around the inside.

I just love Christmas, the jolly bus driver said one December morning after dropping her last students off at Riverside Elementary School in Brainerd.

If youre going to do something like this, she added, you have to make it fun.

And creating fun is exactly what Tepley did when she began driving school bus 24 years ago.

Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students
Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students

I always see all these guys dress up like Santa, and its like, I want to do that, she said, explaining how her Mrs. Claus persona came to be.

So she bought a long red coat on eBay, sewed some white fur around the edges and became the embodiment of Christmas for her students.

But the outfit isnt complete without a hat, of course.

I have about five or six different Santa hats  different colors with different things on them, Tepley said. And I wear those first. And then usually the last week before school is when I wear the Santa coat because I kind of build up to it.

Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students
Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students

And the kids just love it, she added.

All the students have their favorite ornaments among those hung around the walls of the bus, and she said they enjoy having the bright lights lit up on dark, cold winter mornings.

With garland purchased after the holidays, Marilyn Tepley decorates the interior of her bus

Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students
Mrs. Claus the jolly bus driver brings Christmas to her students