In New Prague, Joseph Tikalsky was a familiar figure. The longtime school bus driver was known for driving several generations of schoolchildren in the district and for donating $100,000 for a one-room addition to the hometown library back in 2007.
On Wednesday morning, KSTP reports the 79-year-old was struck and killed by a car just outside the New Prague city limits.
"If there’s Mr. New Prague, he’s Mr. New Prague," New Prague Area Schools Superintendent Tim Dittberner told the station.
The Star Tribune's reports Tikalsky had just returned from his predawn rounds driving the bus at the time of the accident, as he was struck by a passing car as he was getting his mail. He died at the scene.
The newspaper notes that the Tikalsky name is well known in the area: He worked at the family grocery and dry goods store on Main Street until it closed in 1978. He had driven a school bus for the district for nearly 50 years and also worked on the family’s 300-acre corn and soybean farm.
The Le Sueur County Sheriff's Office issued a statement that indicated it was raining and still dark at the time of the accident, adding, "however, it is believed that distracted driving also may have played a factor."
A 47-year-old New Prague woman struck Tikalsky as he walked to his mailbox across the road from his home. She remained at the scene and has not been charged. WCCO reports investigators are reviewing her cell phone records.
Many in the community have reached out to Tikalsky's family to offer their condolences.
"We just received flowers from a student that said: 'Mr. Tikalsky I'm so sorry to hear about your father, he was my favorite bus driver.' And we've heard that hundreds maybe thousands of times," his son Greg Tikalsky told the station.
His obituary cites his pride in his Czech heritage, his love of travel and abiding affection for local sports, and added, "his greatest love, however, was his wife, children, and grandchildren."
His funeral service will be held Tuesday at the Community Baptist Church with his burial at the Czech National Cemetery.