Azusa Pacific is known for its trolleys, and it’s time one of their faithful drivers receives some much-earned recognition.
Before the sun rises in Bellflower, Jeffrey “Jeff” Braden leaves his home to begin work at 6:30 a.m. After arriving, he moves from one car seat to another and settles in, breakfast bar in hand, ready for another day of driving Azusa Pacific’s red trolley.
The first hour is slow, with only two nursing students showing up for a ride. But by mid-morning, students pile in in droves to make it to chapel on time. Come afternoon, the trolley quiets down once again. After a full work day and some overtime, Braden heads home before coming back the next day.
One might think that being an APU trolley driver, with its monotonous route and seemingly minimal effort, would leave one unfulfilled, tired or simply bored. For Braden, however, it’s a welcome change after working at Northrop Grumman, one of the nation’s largest aerospace and defense companies, for over 30 years — first as an expeditor and then as an advanced planner.
“I last supported the James Webb Space Telescope before retiring to take a less stressful job,” Braden said as he moved some papers around on a clipboard to show me a picture of it — one he keeps handy for when students inevitably ask him about his former work.
In his career as an advanced planner, Braden was responsible for many details and many projects, which resulted in more messages in his inbox than he preferred. Now, working a simpler job, Braden’s mind is at ease.
“When I come in, I’m not thinking of how many messages are going to be on, how many emails I’m going to have, [saying] ‘Jeff can you do this? Jeff can you do that,’” Braden said as we rounded one of the corners on his route.
Although one might think Braden’s career of driving the same circular route each day would become dull within the first hour of the shift, he claims the nature of this job is not much different from his position at Northrop Grumman. “I’m doing something all the time: driving. There I just sat at a desk, here I sit at a steering wheel,” he said.
An added bonus of driving the red trolley, however, is the students Braden gets to interact with each day. While driving for nearly 10 hours a day, he claims conversing with students is the highlight. He even keeps a “cheat sheet” in his left shirt pocket of students’ names to help him remember the ones who consistently interact with him.
After six years of working at APU, Braden has not only found fulfillment in his simpler job, he also serves as the perfect example of what humble, hard work looks like, both professionally and personally.
At the age of 16, Braden’s mother passed away from cancer, and his family moved from Cypress to Bellflower. It was then that Braden met his former girlfriend who, in his words, dragged him to church. After a year of ministry involvement with other high schoolers, Braden was baptized at 17. Since then, he’s been attending Calvary Bellflower, where he first began using his love for driving to serve God.
Long before Braden began driving APU’s red trolley, he worked in the bus ministry at his church. For 43 years, Braden picked up and dropped off children and young adults. Whether it was to church or youth retreats, Braden was happy to lend a hand, driving to various camps and activity sites.
Braden recalls that in his first few years of bus ministry, his church ministered to children by offering a neighborhood bus service that came to pick up kids for Sunday school. Eventually, his church extended this ministry to last for the whole service. Although this meant a longer Sunday for Braden — who drove an hour both ways — he says he continued on, claiming that serving others brings the most meaning to his life and gives him a sense of purpose.
Recently, Braden’s church ended their bus services, giving him a break from driving — at least on the weekends. Now, he likes to spend his free time camping, boating and taking care of his house.
Above all, Braden hopes to continue honoring God with his life and encourages others to keep their trust in the Lord — something that has kept him afloat these past 45 years.
“My faith gets me through the valleys in life. [I] just trust that the Lord is guiding my path,” he said. “You gotta trust that things will work out, and they did. When I was on layoff before, things worked out … Always have faith in the Lord, put your trust in the Lord, God’s got this,” he said
Next time you see Jeff Braden on the red trolley, be sure to say hello and strike up a conversation — he’d be more than happy to chat.