'Friendly Frank,' the singing bus driver returns generosity to McMaster students

Last year HSR bus driver, Frank Palin was recognized for his friendly demeanour while driving students to McMaster University, and they showed their appreciation by collection funds for him. Now Palin is paying it forward.

HSR bus driver Frank Palin has started a fund to help international students at McMaster University

As an appreciation for the gratitude that was shown to Frank Palin when the McMaster community raised money for him last year, he is using that money to start a fund for international students. (Sarah Janes/McMaster University)

The wheels on the bus go round and round and so does the act of generosity for HSR driver Frank Palin — who is taking a gift from McMaster University students — and giving it right back to help those in need.

Palin has decided to take the money that the McMaster community raised for him as a thanks for being nice, and has started a fund for international students. 

It all started when Palin, more commonly known as "friendly Frank," garnered attention for his friendly demeanour while driving McMaster students to class on route 51.

"I have so much fun out there and they do so much for me because it's just such a great community," said Palin.  

If passengers are lucky enough, they might even catch a few versus of his "Wheels on the Bus," song, asking riders to 'Move on back, move on back, move on back.'

Palin says he wants to make the public transit experience a positive one for Bus 51 riders. 0:45

Like students often do, they took note.

Diana Marginean graduated from McMaster in 2016 and then went to Queen's University to complete a master's degree.

When she returned to Hamilton in September, she recognized the friendly face from her McMaster days and how many students were talking about "friendly Frank" online.

Marginean then started a campaign to raise funds for Palin as a token of appreciation for the smiles that he was putting on people's faces.

The campaign goal of $500 was surpassed with 77 donations totalling $950 for Palin — which he's now re-gifting.

"I really appreciate the sacrifice they've made and I've very humbled and touched that they would make this effort to reward me for treating people like human beings. Who would think you would get rewarded for that? It speaks as much about the community as it does me and I just wanted to thank them for doing that for me," said Palin.

Giving back 

Palin is donating that money to a fund he's created to support international students. He's called it "This is Canada."

"The sentiment meant more to me than the money so I wanted to give it back."

Palin was a McMaster student himself and holds a degree in biology and one in environmental science.

Being a student, he knows all too well the financial burden students carry. He says he can see it from some of his passengers.

"It might be hyperbole in some cases, but the starving student expression is not inaccurate, so I know the sacrifices that they were making for me and I wanted to give that back," said Palin.

He spoke with people at the university who told him that one of the greatest areas of need on campus was for international students.

Palin was a McMaster student and holds two degrees — one in biology and one in environmental science. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Palin says not only is Canada physically a "rugged" landscape, but it can also be financially as well — and that at some point or another, people have needed help navigating it.

"If you know somebody's struggling, you want to help out. It's part of the human condition and I think that's what this is about," said Palin.

"I know how difficult it is going to university, how much work is involved, how expensive it's become, especially for international students. It's difficult and I couldn't imagine going to another country where they speak a different language and studying there."

Palin realizes that some families invest their entire fortune on sending their kids to international schools and couldn't imagine being that student, and running out of money before completing school.

"I'm hoping that this bursary will help people who are finding themselves in that situation here and make their education possible, and a little bit easier."

A lasting impact

The campaign has potential to help students over a lasting period of time.

If the minimum amount of $3,000 is raised, McMaster can set up a bursary for three years. If $3,700 more is raised, the bursary could be dispersed for five years. After that, if a total of $20,000 is reached, a permanent "This is Canada" bursary would forever exist.

Palin has donated a total of $1,300 towards the bursary. So far with 20 donations, over $2,000 has been reached.

"Fingers crossed we can raise enough awareness and interest that we can get it up to $20,000, which would be amazing," said Palin. 

Marginean who initially fundraised the money, now going directly back to students, is overjoyed with the direction it's gone. "I just thought we'd raise some money and call it a day," she said. "I just kind of thought it would be a one-off thing."

"I think it's fantastic that he's generous enough to do what he's doing and I really feel that he's doing this because he feels that there needs to be a change and that he really does care about the passengers on his bus," said Marginean.

Palin says people who he doesn't even recognize are now recognizing him and saying "hi Frank" when getting on his bus.

"I've probably got about seven minutes left of my 15 minutes of fame."

With files from Kelly Bennett