At one time or another, some of us have sat back and thought about crossing guards. How long has a certain guard been at a corner? What is it like to be posted on that corner? Helping students to school in the morning, and readying as they happily run home in the afternoon. Though our interactions with crossing guards are limited, they quickly become staples of the community. Most of us know our crossing guards, or at least have a lasting memory of one.
I, and many others who went to Laning for Elementary School, will always remember Frank Melitti, the guard who was posted at the intersection of Lanning and Elmwood roads. He knew all of us. Even my mother and grandmother have fond memories of Melitti, who died in 2018, and they didn’t even walk me to school. He just knew them anyway. That’s how involved and attentive he was.
Our relationships to crossing guards are built in a peculiar way. We see them in two, very short intervals of the day, and there usually isn’t much time to talk with them without being late to school or interrupting their work. Just a wave and a “thank you” in the morning and afternoon, small, pure gestures, but eventually a rapport is built between us, and as days and years go by, these guards watch us grow from children to adults.
In June 2021, fellow MyVeronaNJ writer Beth Shorten wrote a wonderful article thanking Verona’s crossing guards for their service and pointing out Steve, the guard who attaches themed balloons to his post at the corner of Elmwood and Claremont. Now, it was my time to talk to them directly, and more specifically ask: “Why?”
The immediate thought is that people choose to be crossing guards because of the hours and work schedule, but there are other occupations suitable to that lifestyle. So why wake up before sunrise, stand outside in the snow, and be the wall between passing children and often heedless drivers?
“It’s the joy of the children,” says Judy McSeveney, who has been serving her post outside Brookdale Avenue School for 25 years. McSeveney likes to see the children’s smiling faces on their way to school, and when the children aren’t smiling, Mcseveney notices, and tries to cheer them up. She says, “It’s about getting to talk to the kids and getting them across safely.” McSeveney recalls a man who approached her recently, calling her “Ms. Judy”, which all of the children call her. As he got closer McSeveney realized that she had been his crossing guard when he was a boy. He is now in college.
Having the support and appreciation of the community appears to be the driving force for many crossing guards to continue their duties, no matter the challenges. “It’s nice to know that other people think about us out here,” McSeveney says, citing a time seven years ago when a middle school boy raised money to provide crossing guards with gloves and other winter wear.
“Every year I say, ‘Maybe I’ll make this my last year’, and then the end of the year comes and I’m like, ‘But I love it!’, so every year I come back,” says McSeveney. (Verona has been having an increasingly hard time finding enough guards. At its most recent meeting, the Town Council discussed bumping guard pay to as much as $33 a hour to attract more.)
There is no better indication that someone loves their job than commitment, and for crossing guards, commitment means staying on the job and staying diligent. Jim Schroeder has been protecting the corner of Forest and Hillside avenues for 13 years. When a car speeds past, he uses a marker to quickly note the license plate on his stop sign, which is now decorated with plate numbers, and he turns those numbers into the police. Before he was a crossing guard, Schroeder served in the United States Army and on the Verona Rescue Squad.
Within seconds of meeting Schroeder, it’s clear that he has a kind heart and great sense of humor. He’s been in the community for many years, and values his position—as a crossing guard, but also as a guardian of his neighborhood when he’s off duty. Since Schroeder and his wife live at the intersection where he guards, they’re well known, and always keep an eye out for a neighbor in need. Being a crossing guard feels natural to Schroeder, who worked outside much of his life as a cable splicer for Verizon. “When we moved here, we were the youngest,” he says, “…and all these houses were the old people. But now, all those houses are the young people, and we’re the old people!”
Guards are motivated by community appreciation, the satisfaction of protecting children, and their interactions with pedestrians. Walter Drury, at the corner of Forest Avenue and Marion Road, specifically mentions how much these small exchanges mean to him, “What kind of a job can you get,” he asks, “where you are guaranteed 20 or 30 ‘hi’s, ‘how are you?’s, or ‘have a great day’s?”
Drury worked in a hospital as an X-ray tech, was promoted to management, and retired after 49 years in 2017. He mentions that anyone who goes into healthcare as a profession does it because they like to interact, make connections, and care for people, and Drury sees those qualities in being a crossing guard as well. “I enjoy it in the sense that it gives me a purpose,” he says. Even as he was getting interviewed, Drury helped two jogging women cross the intersection, one of which asked about the interview in passing and exclaimed back, “He’s always so lovely!”
Guards can form protective bonds with the children they cross. After last Tuesday’s massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, John Burguillos reacted on Facebook with concern for the students that he helps every morning. “These 100 plus children are my children, and seeing them today after another shooting atrocity will make it difficult to maintain my emotions,” he wrote.
It’s important to recognize that crossing guard is one of the few jobs left that is actually, thoroughly worth the distinction of “public service”. Helping people is their only duty, and it’s the obligation of the community to make them feel appreciated for it. After seeing his post, I reached out to John Burguillos for a comment. He wrote, “I do not need any of the money from the job, for me I view it as a community service.”