SPARTA, Ill. — When Amanda Valleroy, of Sparta, Illinois, was enrolled at the 160 Driving Academy in Belleville, Illinois, one of her driving instructors was Matt Craft. While she was attending the school, she discovered Craft was also a minister who pastors the Nashville First Assembly of God church in Nashville, Illinois.
“I went there a couple of times, but I didn’t regularly attend,” Valleroy said, adding that her fiancé later attended the same driving school. “Now, Matt is going to be the minster that is going to marry us. It is an interesting twist for sure.”
Valleroy and her fiancé, Al Aukema, both truck drivers, recently got engaged after dating for just over a year. She is a driver for Beelman Truck Co. pulling a pneumatic tank, and he drives a flatbed truck for Stock Transport.
“We are both local,” she said. “I drive about 560 miles every day, and so we are gone away from each other during the day, but we talk quite a bit. It is a little bit challenging. We are lucky, because there are some drivers who don’t see their spouses for weeks at a time.”
Aukema describes Craft as “a very good” man. “Matt basically taught us to drive, and he invited us to go to his church,” he said.
Because the couple works in the same industry, Aukema said he and Valleroy have a lot in common and that has brought them closer, even though they are apart from each other during their runs. The two regularly communicate with each other through their headsets, bouncing ideas off of each other and working out any problems they might be having within their jobs. He said it is helpful to have someone that is so supportive and understands the situation.
“I have never met anybody like her,” he said. “I love her to death.”
Aukema said there is a huge wall inside the warehouse of the driving academy the pair attended, where all the graduates sign their names. He said he found Valleroy’s name, drew a heart around it and then signed his name underneath.
The couple met through a mutual acquaintance, and neither was necessarily looking for a serious relationship at the time. However, love blossomed, and the couple’s plans changed.
Aukema proposed to Valleroy at a local Chinese restaurant in front of their families; then the couple re-created the proposal in front of their trucks for photos.
“That was important to me because it is the lifestyle we live,” Valleroy said. “We are both very proud of our careers in the trucking industry, and I wanted my Kenworth in the picture. He loved the idea.”
Aukema said he never thought they would receive so much attention over the engagement photos with the trucks.
“She is so much like me,” he said. “I finally met someone that is like me, but a woman. I couldn’t be happier.”
The couple will be married Oct. 10 of this year.
Before Valleroy started driving, she worked in the medical field for more than 18 years, as a certified nurse assistant (CNA) for Red Bud Regional Hospital. She had considered being in the transportation industry before, but making it a reality didn’t seem feasible.
“I have always liked the idea of driving,” she said. “My grandpa used to work for McLane Trucking and didn’t want me to be a trucker. He said it was a terrible idea, and ‘they won’t respect you.’ I just figured he knows more than I do, so I decided not to do it.”
She said after being in the medical field for so long, she was “burned out” and wanted to do something else. She said she is very glad she is not in the medical field right now because of COVID-19.
“To me, driving is freedom,” Valleroy said. “I run my own show. I feel like as women, we have to work harder and be as good as men, because this has been a male-dominant field for so long.”
Before becoming a driver, Aukema worked in a factory and as a mechanic.
“It is challenge,” he said. “You have to worry and be concerned about everybody around you. These trucks don’t stop on a dime, they stop on a dollar — it takes about 100 feet to slow down. Not only is it a physical challenge, but you have to be aware of everybody around you. It is a very unique challenge, but you get to see things that you normally wouldn’t and every day, there is something new. It is exciting.”
Valleroy said she saw that Aukema was also burned out at his current job, so she encouraged him to attend driving school and work toward a whole new career.
“He went the same way I did, and now he loves his job,” she said. “It is the best money we both have ever made.”
Sam Pierce has been a journalist for more than a decade and has written for several publications including The Trucker, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Living Our Faith magazine. He enjoys spending time with his family including his two daughters. They like to watch movies, read books and build LEGO sets.