Last July, exactly one day before she turned 40, Kelley Hickman bought a school bus. It was the first step in starting her transportation business, Beautiful Endeavors, which launched last October.
"It was the best 40th birthday gift I could have given myself," says Hickman.
Little did she know when she made the initial purchase that within the year she would be able to leave her bus driving job of 11 years to focus her efforts exclusively on her own venture. Today, just a few weeks shy of the business' first anniversary, she has five busses, a contract with a school and a calendar filled with social events in need of a driver.
"I think I've done well for a variety of reasons. For one, I’m a safe driver with strong customer service. People always tell me that," she says.
Hickman’s driving services are available for large groups who want to attend sporting events, tailgating parties, bachelor / bachelorette parties, bar crawls and more. She also drives groups of school children for the Christian Faith Academy of Higher Learning, Children’s Outing Association (COA) and Alverno College.
Hickman is also a student at Alverno where she studies business management. She is paying for school completely out of pocket and therefore takes one class at a time. Her twin sister recently graduated from Alverno with a degree in Philosophy and her niece is a senior.
"I have 56 credits and I’m determined to do it," she says.
Both of Hickman’s parents made their living driving a vehicle. Her mother owned a cab and worked for Brew City Cabs and her father was a career school bus driver.
"Driving is in my blood," says Hickman.
Hickman grew up on Milwaukee’s North Side and graduated from Franklin High School. She worked as a driver for Dairyland Buses, Inc., in Waukesha for a couple of years and Lamers Bus Lines for 11 years.
"I’ve always loved driving. It relaxes me," says Hickman, who is also the mother of four children who range in age from 11 to 22.
Hickman says friend Dasha Kelly – a Milwaukee-based writer and founder of the spoken word group Still Waters Collective – has been instrumental to her success.
"Dasha is the first person who gave me a chance and she has created so many opportunities for me," says Hickman.
In the future, Hickman plans to organize a group for women interested in starting businesses.
"I want to motivate other women who need encouragement to fulfill their dreams," she says.
Hickman’s large buses accommodate 72-78 passengers. She also has a smaller passenger bus.
Rental costs depend on the distance and time frame; however, a local bar crawl from 8 p.m. until bar time is usually $300 and most local trips are $125 for four hours of service.
Recently, Hickman took a busload of people to the Jimmy Buffet concert at Alpine Valley and has transported groups to Miller Park most weekends this season. It’s been a busy summer, but Hickman’s not complaining.
"I love being my own boss," she says. "I still smile thinking about the business. I can't believe it sometimes. I never really believed in myself and doing this – and doing really well in school – has made a huge difference in my life."
Someday, Hickman hopes Beautiful Endeavors will be one of the largest bus companies in the city.
"I want to take over," she says, laughing. "I’m pretty amazed at what I accomplished but I could not have done it without the help of others. This really has been a beautiful endeavor."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.