One last CityBus ride for ‘Okie Dokie’
CityBus drivers found a friend in the late Charles Tousant. On Saturday, they’ll give the Lafayette passenger they called ‘Okie Dokie’ one last ride to the mall
When Charles Tousant Jr. got on a CityBus, drivers always knew.
A retiree dressed in pants and shirts always neatly pressed, sometimes in a vest covered with Looney Tunes cartoon characters, shoes shined once a week and carrying a walking stick, Tousant would board a bus greeting drivers by name, maybe handing them gumballs he’d pick up from the machines at Tippecanoe Mall.
“Always a suspenders-and-pocket watch man, is how I saw him,” Mike Berkshire, a CityBus driver for the past decade, said. “You couldn’t miss Charlie.”
When drivers would give him a see-you-later, as he got off near his North Fifth Street apartment, a few blocks north of downtown Lafayette, Tousant wouldn’t miss a beat.
“Then he’d tell me, ‘If the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise,’” Beth Streeter, a CityBus driver for the past five years, said. “You know how some people say, ‘If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all?’ Mr. Tousant was that way. He was so nice, all the time.
“When he’d say, ‘Okie dokie,’ to you, already you’d be looking forward to seeing him again.”
When Tousant stopped showing up at bus stops, word spread among drivers that he’d died. Streeter said she was having lunch with another CityBus driver and they talked about how they’d been watching for an obituary, so they could pay their respects. But they never saw one.
So, they made a few calls, eventually landing at the Fairfield Township trustee’s office.
Tousant, 82, was found in his apartment May 24 by a maintenance man, after reports that he hadn’t been seen since a week earlier. Carrie Costello, Tippecanoe County coroner, said an autopsy showed no sign of acute disease or foul play. The cause is still listed as undetermined. Costello said her office spent the following weeks trying to find relatives in Lafayette, in Logansport – where he’d worked for Tyson Foods – and in his original hometown of Chicago. She said she couldn’t track down anyone.
In cases like those, cremation and burial arrangements fall to a township trustee.
Trisha Fogleman, who works in the township trustee’s office, said she was in the process of making arrangements for Tousant after the coroner completed her review.
“His landlady said he was a total joy, and that was the first glimmer of something,” Fogleman said. “Then I got a phone call from a CityBus driver.”
That was June 10.
The drivers wanted to know what was going to happen to Tousant and his ashes. Fogleman said that once the trustee handles things when there’s no next of kin, the ashes are stored – in Fairfield Township’s case, at a unit in Greenbush Cemetery. Fogleman said the township wouldn’t be able to release his remains, if that’s what the drivers were asking.
Streeter said drivers asked: “What if we took care of it?”
Fogleman lined them up with Fisher Funeral Chapel, which handles cases for the township. Jonathan Fisher offered the CityBus drivers the rate offered to the township.
Streeter said a note went up that afternoon on a CityBus drivers’ private group page on Facebook.
“When we said, ‘This is for Charles,’ everyone said, ‘You mean, Okie Dokie?’” Streeter said. “Everyone knew him. Everyone loved Mr. Tousant.”
They had the money by the end of the shift – less than five hours.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Fogleman said. “I cried.”
Berkshire said he first met Tousant when both lived in Logansport – Berkshire as a Cass Area Transit driver and Tousant as a retiree getting rides around town or on Council on Aging “supper club” trips to Kokomo or Peru.
“When you’re riding a bus, you don’t really ask, ‘So, what sort of funeral arrangements do you have?’” Berkshire said. “Somehow, that subject never comes up on the bus.
“But I couldn’t stand that he was going to a pauper’s grave. I couldn’t get my mind around that. We just wanted to make sure he was taken care of the right way.”
Fogleman said a few days later, she received a call from Jim Rush, a deacon at St. Lawrence Church in Lafayette’s north end, asking about Tousant, who had attended St. Mary Cathedral in Lafayette and St. Thomas Aquinas in West Lafayette. She told him about what the CityBus drivers were doing and mentioned that the trustee’s office was looking for burial. Drivers had been considering where to scatter his ashes.
“I told her, ‘Oh, he’s going to a Catholic cemetery,’” Rush said.
Rush called Tousant a faithful Catholic, whose absence was noticed quickly by the pastors and parishioners at both congregations. He said the church lined up a spot for Tousant at St. Boniface Cemetery along Schuyler Avenue.
Streeter said CityBus drivers raised enough money that day that they had $800 left, which they put into a headstone that should arrive at St. Boniface Cemetery in a matter of months. The monument will include the words: “Okie Dokie.”
A graveside service for Tousant is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Streeter said many of the drivers who knew him won’t be able to make that service, because they’ll be running routes Tuesday afternoon.
So Saturday morning, the drivers have lined up a CityBus to carry Tousant’s remains from the downtown station to Tippecanoe Mall and back. Fisher will ride with them, handling the urn.
“This is definitely the first funeral I’ve been to on a bus,” Fisher said.
“I like the idea,” Fisher said. “Usually, when the trustee gets involved, you don’t hear from anybody. This time, you had friends of his popping up all over. … I’m really honored to be part of it.”
Rush said it spoke to the way Tousant carried himself, in his faith and in his everyday interactions with people.
“He’s gone from pauper with no one claiming him – no family, an anonymous death, except to the eyes of God – to this superstar everyone wants to honor,” Rush said. “The impact of his life, maybe just in the small things, meant he has a family – and a very big one.”
Streeter said the bus ride from downtown to the mall, one Tousant made often, would be a quiet affair. No public. Just CityBus drivers. The nameplate lighted up with Okie Dokie.
“One last ride,” Streeter said. “That’s what we wanted to give him. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
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