OZARK—Jan Poland hugged her family and nodded often as she listened to residents tell her much about her husband she may have already known.
But her head tilted slightly when Charles Littlefield told her that her husband – who has been hailed a hero in recent days – had a hero of his own.
The words were among many spoken before hundreds of residents who attended the Sunday funeral of 66-year-old Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr. at the Ozark Civic Center.
Poland was shot and killed Tuesday by a man who authorities said was denied access to more than 20 children riding Poland’s bus route from school. The man, who authorities have identified as 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes, then abducted a five-year-old child and held him hostage in an underground bunker.
Dale County Schools Superintendent Donny Bynum said Poland was a hero well before he gave his life in hopes of saving others.
Bynum said had people been more “Chuck-like” and followed the Lord as Poland had, then the world would be a better place.
Bynum’s sentiments were felt in a letter Bynum read that he said was written by one of Poland’s bus riders.
“Since you were the nicest person I met, I’ll be the same way,” Bynum read.
Littlefield, who said he was a substitute bus driver for the county schools, said Poland was a simple man who loved God, who didn’t just “come to” church but “was in” church, and who cared about his family and the connection he made with the students who were in his care.
Littlefield said Poland could fix anything, and that Poland’s bus – 04-02 – was the last each school day to leave to pick up children.
“How appropriate it was that he always had our back,” Littlefield said.
“What a man to know is behind you.”
During the funeral, state Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, read a state resolution honoring Poland.
Others said Sunday’s ceremony was only a funeral in name, but in reality an opportunity for worship.
Afterward residents – many of them children – lined South Union Avenue along with buses from several different counties for the processional from the civic center to Newton City Cemetery, where Poland was laid to rest.