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Ford, Thirlwall receive Small Town Bigger Dreams awards

Christine Ford and Riley Thirlwall took different journeys to receive prestigious awards from Small Town Bigger Dreams. Thirlwall submitted an essay on community service and leadership, and Ford learned she was nominated when she won the award.

Small Town Bigger DreamsFord, a bus driver in the district, received $10,000 for winning the Coby Clark Excellence in Education Award as a district employee making a difference, and Thirlwall, the Class of 2024 valedictorian, won $5,000 for receiving the James “Tuffy” Clark Leadership in Service Award.

Small Town Bigger Dreams offers these honors to residents of the Webutuck Central School District and Delaware Academy School District in Delhi “to make an impact for those less fortunate or seeking assistance, and to continue telling the small-town story while paying respect to the fabric and traditions that help shape us all.”

Ford’s name was submitted for the award by Webutuck Elementary School teachers Paige Wagner and Michelle Smith, and teacher aide Anne Thomas.

“I couldn’t believe somebody would do that for me. This was something I never imagined,” she said.

Ford is a third-generation bus driver in her family. Her grandfather and grandmother were both bus drivers as was his father until he began working at IBM.

Ford worked with the district for 15 years before leaving in 2018 to serve in the same role with the Arlington Central School District. She returned to Webutuck in 2020.

“I love coming to work every day, working with my co-workers and driving our students,” she said.

Ford has introduced a safety program where she visited district classrooms to discuss what could be done to make a bus ride a safer one. This includes how to get on and off the bus, how to behave on the bus and how to cross in front of a bus.

“You don’t realize how much traffic is out there, and people don’t want to pay attention to the roads,” she said. “I’m driving a 40-foot bus and I could have up to 60 kids on the bus. A bus driver has got to pay attention to everything.”


Ford also was involved in the community, serving as a Cub Scout leader and in the town sports program as well as collecting food and money to provide holiday meals for families.

Thirlwall was the president of the National Honor Society and co-president of the senior class and student council. She has volunteered at the North East Community Center food pantry and at the Dutchess County Fair where she led children “through an agriculture tent and talked them through the processes of agriculture.”

Thirlwall played varsity girls soccer and girls basketball, and was a member of the 2022-2023 Section IX Class D girls basketball championship team, the program’s first sectional title in over 25 years. She also was a three-time New York State Music Association’s Area All-State musician.

“Webutuck has given me the opportunity to be in a close-knit community because we are really small,” she said. “It’s opened me up to be part of the music and athletic departments. It really has just given me many opportunities.

“I’m going to miss it a lot. Undeniably, Webutuck has shaped me more than I like to say it has. It has shaped me very much.”

Thirlwall will study aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, and hopes to one-day work for NASA.