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Family turns school buses into RVs in tribute to beloved son and brother


EASTHAM – Every year on the first day of school, Lisa Donahue used to take a picture of her son and daughter waiting for the bus. She was still taking the picture from behind her children as they watched the school bus coming towards them.

Year after year, she captured Michael and Megan standing close to each other, arms around each other, waving to the bus that would take them to a new school year.

“We were best friends,” said Megan, 23. “We were inseparable. ”

She was two years older than her brother, but they went everywhere together. There was no Megan without Michael, she said. “He’s always been included; he was always invited.

In 2015, Michael died in a car accident. Megan was studying communications and design at Elon University in North Carolina at the time. After Michael died, she said she had no interest in studying, and certainly no interest in partying.

She decided that she could cope better with the tragedy by focusing on her creativity, doing something, and spending time with her mother. At first she thought she was going to flip the houses, starting small, of course. But her mother reminded Megan that she didn’t even have the money to buy a foreclosure.

Find something you can afford, she told Megan.

Megan spent hours driving the back roads of North Carolina, where she and her family had moved in 2013 after living in Eastham for years.

When she saw a school bus at the Wheeley Auto Mall in Graham, NC, this seemed like the answer she was looking for. The bus was large and about 40 feet long. She thought it was big enough for her to add some creative touches to it.

She bought it for $ 1,200, and Live Simply Buses was born.

A family project

Megan’s desire to turn school buses into moving memorials for her brother attracted her mother. And Lisa recognizes that it was her daughter’s motivation and efforts that were the glue that held the family together after Michael’s death.

Megan and Michael Donahue

What had been a close family of four – with Lisa and her husband, David, Megan and Michael – seemed so small after Michael’s death.

Since then, Megan and her mother have bought and sold eight school buses as motor homes.

Lisa brought her organizational and business skills as well as her experience as a visual coordinator to the Live Simply Buses project. She had been a visual designer for years, helping homeowners redesign their living spaces using the favorite furniture and things they already owned. She used the same skills to create simple and practical houses on wheels.

David Donahue takes care of the tires and rims of older school buses.

They renovated each one for the sake of adventure and simplicity because that’s what Michael loved.

Women remember him always wanting to be outside, even at night when he preferred the stars to the ceiling of his bedroom. He would take friends out on survival weekends, warning them that they could only eat the fruits and food of the land. They built sheds to sleep. They carried everything they needed in a backpack.

The name of Megan and Lisa Donahue's latest bus refurbishment is painted on the back of the vehicle in Eastham.

Megan and Lisa would take pity on some of Michael’s friends, stuffing contraband granola bars into their backpack pockets without saying a word to Michael.

Lisa called her son an old soul. “He had his whole life planned,” she said. “He was going to be Navy SEAL and then a police officer. ”

The Donahue family has always been close, the women said. They had dinner together every night, with no phone, TV or computer screen to interrupt them. Time spent with the family was sacrosanct. Each parent has made it a point to spend time alone with each child.

“On Valentine’s Day we each had a date with our child to let the kids know how special they are,” Lisa said. “It kills me when people complain about having to do something with their child. You don’t know what I would give to do something again with my child.

Every bus is different

The women build the decor of each bus around an object they find and fall in love with. It’s usually a pillow, Megan says. They choose colors to match the pillow, then choose flooring and design elements for the space to build.

One bus has a black and white checkered floor, a black stool, and a black and wood kitchen counter with white cabinets.

A Live Simply sign hangs over the double bed that occupies the back of another bus. The cushions and cushions of the kitchen benches are matched to the colors of the sign.

Each bus has its own color and design schemes. And every buyer is vetted by Megan before a sale is finalized.

Megan Donahue and her mother Lisa in one of their modernized buses.

Buyers represent her brother and she is picky about who can travel on buses built in his honor. She turned down some offers, even those thousands of dollars over the asking price.

Live Simply buses have sold for between $ 27,000 and $ 42,000, depending on the size and whether they are built for on-grid or off-grid. “Linus”, the bus she and her friend Bob Field are currently working on, is a short powder blue bus, with an outdoor shower and powered by solar panels and batteries. It is designed to be an off-grid vehicle without the need for electricity. When they finish it in two weeks, Megan expects between 200 and 500 people to be able to contact her about it.

Every summer, Megan returns to Cape Town. This year, she and her grandfather, Jack Donahue of Eastham, spent weeks working together to modernize a bus called “Cactus”. She finds buses as she travels through North Carolina to churches, malls, and dumps. Now she has someone calling her if he has any buses “lying around”.

She uses Facebook Marketplace to sell her buses. They’re sold out within days, Megan said.

Part of a trend

Lisa Revelli, spokesperson for Facebook Marketplace, noticed the buses and the history behind them, and helped get their story told.

One billion people use Facebook Marketplace around the world every month, according to Revelli. She calls it a community market, ideal for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The Live Simply Buses have resonated with a growing community of travelers, according to Revelli.

Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and other online marketplaces are full of different makes, models, and price ranges of RVs, RVs, buses, and mobile homes. The Donahues are riding a trend that has strengthened with the pandemic.

Forbes magazine has dubbed 2020 the year of RV travel. RV shipments increased by more than 21% in October 2020 compared to 2019, according to to the RV Industry Association.

There has been a 26% increase in RV owner households since 2011, according to a study by Ipsos, the market research company. More than 11 million households own a motorhome in 2021.

Ipsos reports that 84% of 18-34 year olds plan to buy a motorhome in the next five years. And 31% of those surveyed in the study are new owners.

And after

So where does Live Simply Buses fit into the scheme of things?

If Megan is successful, she will find people to build them across the country. When “Linus” is finished, Megan will return to North Carolina to work on another small bus with her mother.

Megan and Michael Donahue wait for the school bus when they are kids.  Their mother took a similar photo of them at the start of each school year, which later became an inspiration for their business, Live Simply Buses.

Field will continue to work on more buses from his Eastham home, Megan said. The approved manufacturer plans to diversify by using smaller vehicles such as vans. He will get a percentage of the sale if he uses the name Live Simply Buses.

Megan wants to launch a line of t-shirts and sweatshirts, buy the clothes at thrift stores and put her Live Simply stamp on them. Each will be unique, just like the buses, she said.

“Why spend $ 50 on a sweatshirt when you can spend $ 25?” ” she asked.

But for now, his life is the buses. She and her mom are trying to come up with a name for their new little bus. They launch two possibilities: Phyllus or Rufus.

“We want these buses to go to different places,” Megan said. “That’s what Michael would have done.”

Contact Denise Coffey at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT.

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