Daniel Church started chewing blueberry gum after his throat cancer diagnosis nine years ago.
The radiation affected his salivary glands and the gum helps him feel normal.
Church is known around campus as the “Blueberry Gum Guy,” because he shares his gum while driving a white security shuttle.
Before driving security shuttles, Church was enlisted in the United States Air Force. He fought and left a tour in Vietnam with small shrapnel in his chest.
“When I look back on it now, it seems like another life,” Church said. “It was a long time ago. It was so far away. There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then.”
He moved to New York and worked on computers after his enlistment ended. After several moves he ended up in Texas working in security.
He left Texas to assist his youngest brother, who was battling cancer at the time, with his security company in Oklahoma. After his brother’s passing he returned to Texas and then Alabama.
Cancer ran rampant through Church’s family, killing his mother, sister and one of his brothers, all at the age of 43. Another brother was diagnosed with throat cancer right before him. He passed away during Church’s treatment.
His treatment was primarily radiation. While treating the radiation also destroyed his taste buds and salivary glands. The doctor recommended chewing gum. Church tried several brands, but eventually settled on Trident’s Wild Blueberry Twist.
After losing the last of his family to cancer, Church followed his brother-in-law and left his home in Dallas, Texas, for Alabama. He planned to move back to South Carolina, where he is originally from, until his brother-in-law mentioned a night-shuttle system looking for a startup team.
Church was hired April 11, 2006, making his 10 year anniversary fairly recent.
He was referred to as “Dan the Man” when he first became a driver, a name he prefers over the Blueberry Gum Guy.
There were two shuttles when he began at Auburn. Each had an individual direct contact number and students would call the drivers for pick ups.
The team was made up of Dan the Man, Mark the Shark and the young driver who drove on off nights, Nick at Night.
There is one story Church tells that stands out in his mind more than any other.
About five years ago, while making his normal rounds, he passed the pack of blueberry gum around the van after one of the girls said she smelled muffins. As one of the girls stepped out of the vehicle, a boy commented, “Hey, dude! Did you smell her? She smelled like blueberry muffins. I gotta get my girl some of that.”
Another girl spoke up.
“Can I get some of that gum,” she asked. “Maybe I’ll meet the man of my dreams tonight.”
Church gave her a piece and dropped her off.
Later that night, the girl hopped back in Church’s van and told him she had met a great guy and the gum had worked.
“He even called me his little blueberry,” she said, according to Church. “We’re going to see each other again.”
A year later, she and that boy stepped into Church’s van. The boy and his “little blueberry” were engaged and living together.
“That story took off like a rocket,” Church said. “All of a sudden, I’m getting people in my bus saying, ‘Hey, you got any of that blueberry gum? I’m going out tonight.’”
Students have started to connect his gum to other successes, Church said, like getting back together with an ex, passing a test, meeting a significant other and getting asked to formals.
Church lives alone and looks forward to his night shifts driving through the City of Auburn. He spends a large percent of his time driving intoxicated students home. Intoxication has directly affected Church’s life due to the loss of his son to alcohol poisoning.
“(Driving security shuttles) is by far the best job I’ve ever had,” Church said. “I love it and I’ve loved it from day one. Even after 10 years, I can still tell you how much I love this job.”
Interacting with the students is one of the best things about driving for the University, Church said. He is constantly reminded of what a small world it is by listening to students converse in his van.
Church has watched and listened as long-lost acquaintances have reunited on a 10-minute drive across campus.
Church has received cards, cookies and invitations to weddings and parties.
He has made such a large impact on students, the mere mention of his retirement caused Baret Steed, freshman in elementary education, to yell, “No, Blueberry Man! (If you retire) I will retire from Auburn.”
He laughed and said he has a couple more years of driving in him. Auburn is his family now, Church said, and he plans to stay a while.