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Midland Park

School's Penny Wars Raise Coin For Beloved Bus Driver's Cancer Battle

05/04/2013 05:58PM ● By Rebecca K. Abma

Marge Soto, center, with students Dan Lynam and Michelle Passero. Students raised more than $3,000 for the bus driver who battled breast cancer.

Margaret Soto came in dancing. As Usher's "Yeah" blared through the Gymnasium and students cheered wildly, Soto made the rounds high-fiving, fist bumping and breaking out her moves. To watch her in action, you would never guess she's undergoing cancer treatments. And, as she made her grand entrance into the Spring Pep Rally, she would never have guessed the surprise in store for her: A shoebox filled with cash — more than $3,000 — that the school raised in her honor.

For the past 27 years, Margaret has worked as a bus driver for the district, shuttling students to and from out-of-town games and events. Her firm but fun-loving reputation has earned her the respect and love of three decades worth of students from Godwin through High School Graduation.

"Margaret is the heart of Midland Park — the loudest fan in the bleachers, the biggest supporter of student activities, and one of the most caring people at Midland Park," said Dan Lynam, president of the Spectrum Club, which spearheaded the fundraiser. "She's always been our biggest supporter, now it’s time for us to be her biggest supporters."

So, as Margaret battled breast cancer, the school went to war. The Penny Wars pit grade against grade and students against faculty as each team worked to fill their jar with the most pennies, or positive scoring points, and the least amount of silver and paper money, which are negative points based on its face value. To win, teams fill their jars with pennies and opponents jars with silver and money. The two-week event raised $3,150. The coins were counted by Columbia Bank, who added another $1,000 donation for Soto, who was absolutely stunned by the gifts.

"My grandmother always told me, 'Margaret, be good to others, be kind to others, make people smile. Make people laugh, and all of it will come back to you 10-fold,' and today it has," she said, adding that she is overwhelmed by the support. "Thank God for Midland Park."

Soto's cancer journey began last summer following her annual mammogram, where an abnormality was detected in her left breast. A follow-up ultrasound showed a small mass and last Sept. 10, the biopsy came back malignant. She then underwent a contrast MRI which showed the cancer was also in her right breast.

Before she began chemotherapy, she went the Family Hair Care on Godwin Avenue and chopped off her waist-length hair to donate. As she sported a bold head, she told student's that she is "Bold, Not Bald, Baby," sparking a rallying cry student athlete Michelle Passero emblazoned on purple bracelets to sell in support. So far, more than 800 bracelets have sold, raising an additional $1,000. (To purchase yours, contact Michelle at mpassero21@yahoo.com.)

So far, Margaret endured four double-doses of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy and the first few of a series of radiation treatments with excellent results: Her doctor said she is "as cancer-free as anyone can be." Though she's just healing from a bout with bronchitis that almost sent her to the hospital, she is hopeful to return to work on Monday.

Spectrum, a new club that advocates for and supports a safe school climate and offers students a safe place to go for help with bullying, is a cause close to Soto's heart. She was bullied in school and she has no tolerance for bullying on her bus or off.

"Anytime I see a kid being bullied, I put a stop to it right away," she said, adding that she deals directly with the bully to make sure it doesn't happen again.

"Ever since Spectrum began, Margaret has been one of our biggest supporters. She would always ask us how the club was going and if we need a bus driver to take us anywhere," Lynam said. "She truly cares about each student, and wants to make our schools the best and safest places it can be for everyone. Even on her bus, she demands respect for everyone."

As she accepted her gift from the school, she offered these words of wisdom that she lives by: "Always smile, always look ahead. Don't look at your feet, cause when you do, you look down. Don't look down. Keep looking up!"

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