As a child growing up on Saint Paul’s East Side, Steve Jaeger liked to imagine himself as a bus driver, using a circular piano stool for a steering wheel and his sister and her dolls as his passengers. Later in life, he didn’t have to imagine. After seeing an ad in the paper, he applied for and got a job shuttling commuters between Cottage Grove and St. Paul, traveling along Highway 61 while trying not to get caught at one of the road's many stoplights. Between those early morning and afternoon runs, he also drove school and charter buses. In 1975, after the company he was working for sold its fixed routes, he moved to the Metropolitan Transit Commission, starting what would become a 47-year career with the organization (which later became Metro Transit). Jaeger retired in September 2022 as the agency’s longest-serving transportation manager.
At first, Jaeger wasn’t sure he wanted to come to the MTC. But with two young daughters, the benefits were too good to pass up. After the change, he found himself navigating unfamiliar streets in Minneapolis for the first time. “If I lost sight of the Foshay Tower, I was lost,” Jaeger recalled. But his comfort level grew and, after two years, he was recognized as someone who was capable of doing more. With some encouragement, he applied for and was offered a role as a dispatcher at the Shingle Creek Garage (now Ruter Garage). Not long after that, he was pushed to apply for an assistant transportation manager role, a position he held at the old Nicollet, Snelling, Northside, and Heywood garages. Opportunity knocked again when a garage manager position opened. Convinced that it wouldn’t hurt to try, he applied and, to his surprise, got the job.
As a manager, Jaeger spent several years at Shingle Creek and Heywood before being transferred to South. At the time, he wasn’t especially excited about the change. One conversation with a terminally ill operator who came to him seeking faith and wisdom changed all that. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” he said, remembering the meeting. “I said, ‘Now I know I am where I am for a reason.’” Though not every relationship was quite as profound, the opportunity to make an impact in other peoples’ lives, he said, is what sustained him as a manager over his 35-plus years in the position. To encourage operators, Jaeger liked to pull out a pair of golden handcuffs and make a point about choosing to enjoy the job instead of seeing it as a burden. “When your heads in the right place and your hearts in the right place, you don’t need these (handcuffs),” he would say.
In addition to his work as a manager, Jaeger served as an informal mentor, spent 14 years as president of the Transit Managers’ and Supervisors’ Association (TMSA), and was part of the group that provided input during the design of the East Metro Garage.
In retirement, Jaeger planned to spend more time with family, including his wife, daughters, sons-in-law and six grandchildren, and to get more involved in church activities. Looking back, he said he was grateful for the chance to lead so many people for so long. “I’m confident that this is what I was created to do,” he said.