People: Crossing guard Gloria Lewis

December 06, 2004|HERB BROCK

If you're an impatient sort, and are late to work to boot, three things you don't want to see are red lights, stop signs and school crossing guards. They all impede progress.

But if you're on Stanford Road near Bate Middle School between 7:30 and 8 a.m. and 2:45 and 3 p.m. weekdays, there is someone there for whom you won't mind stopping. She wears that vest and carries that little stop sign, but she packs three things that are even more powerful.

A friendly wave, an infectious smile and a way with words that you can hear five vehicles deep - with your windows rolled up.

Gloria Lewis has only been a crossing guard for two years, but she already is a fixture at her post. A half hour of what I thought was going to be an interview with a crossing guard seemed to evolve into an audience with a presidential candidate.


Every other vehicle honked, and the motorists who didn't blow their horns waved or yelled greetings. And then there is her base of supporters - the prepubescent and teenage children who rely on her to keep them safe - and make them feel good. Many of them treat her like a favorite aunt, if not a surrogate mom.

"I love people, particularly kids, and this job is perfect for a person who's a people-lover and a kid-lover," said Lewis, walking across the school crossing lane, holding her stop sign with one hand, waving with the other and chatting with the child she was escorting, all at the same time.

"The kids make me smile and I hope I do the same for them," she said. "And I try to smile in the rain, the snow, the sleet and the sunshine. But you know what? You don't need the sun if you smile. The smile will light up the sky. "For a person like me, a person who loves people and kids and loves to smile, it's a perfect job."

Long-time Matsushita employee

Lewis found out about the job from longtime school crossing guard Sharon McGuire, who is stationed outside Toliver Elementary School. Lewis wanted a part-time job to keep her busy. She and her husband, Paul, now an employee at Centre College, took a buyout from Matsushita Floor Care Co., where she worked for 18 years following 13 years at the old Palm Beach plant.

"Sharon and the other guards really helped me get started. I think we're a pretty good team, and we're all interested in protecting these kids. I'm a mom, and when my kids were little I wanted them to be safe going to and from school," said Lewis, who attended Danville High School. Her children, Keith, 34, an employee of Hitachi in Harrodsburg, and Cheryl, 32, a social worker in Lexington, also graduated from DHS.

There are four school crossing guards in the Danville system. In addition to Lewis and McGuire, there are Diane Smith, who is stationed at Jennie Rogers Elementary School, and Sharon Williamson, who is stationed at the Kentucky School for the Deaf.

The school crossing guard program is managed by the Danville Police Department. Gale Mason, an administrative assistant at the department, said it provides training, vests and stop signs, and it pays each guard $6 an hour for two hours of work each school day.

"The training is pretty basic, and it mainly involves teaching the guards to be alert at all times to all traffic and to all the children in the crossing lane area," Mason said. "They have to keep one eye on the cars and the other on the kids."

"Our guards have to be out there often in snow and rain, but they never complain," Mason said. "They also put themselves at some risk, and there have been several close calls with vehicles but, fortunately, none of them have been hurt. "These women are very loyal, and they all share one thing - they love the kids they're protecting," Mason said. "And you have to have that love to dodge the traffic they have to deal with, especially at Bate, where it can be really crazy."

Crazy but fun

Crazy - but fun, Lewis would add.

"I've met more new friends in this job, including the kids, their parents and folks driving that I don't know by name but feel like I've known all my life," she said. "In fact, I don't know all the kids by name. To me, everybody is named 'Honey.'"

Friendliness begets friends, and a lot of "Honeys." And Lewis' friendliness created a friend out of a student who never set foot in Bate or any other Danville school, for that matter. It was a girl who drove by Bate every weekday on her way to Boyle County High School. "Last spring she parked her car, got out, came over to me and introduced herself. I recognized her but, like so many others, didn't know her name," Lewis said. "She then gave me a picture of herself and invited me to the Boyle graduation."

Lewis had to cut short her conversation. It was 7:45 a.m. and that's the peak time on her morning shift. A steady stream of kids gave Lewis her "morning exercise." "Mornin', Honey," she said to a girl, toting a book bag almost as big as herself. "Now you have a good day."

There is now one more member of the Gloria Lewis fan club. I told her my name is Herb. But I wanted her to call me "Honey."

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