Last month, NewsWorks asked readers to nominate their favorite crossing guards in Northwest Philadelphia. We received six submissions from the public and got clearance to cover five of the nominees (one person did not return our call). These crossing guard stories will run from Dec. 31 through the first week of January.
Mary Evans stands at the corner of Hermitage and Smick streets in Manayunk gushing about her two grandkids, ages 3 and 4 (plus one on the way), as the top of her mechanical Santa hat bounces back and forth above her head.
“Eve calls me grandmom and Caleigh calls me mom-mom,” she said. “On Thursdays, I bring her a donut, so now I’m mom-mom donut.”
It’s 7:30 a.m. on a cold, December morning and Evans is starting her first of three crossing guard shifts for the day near Dobson Elementary School.
The first sign of life along the quiet street is from a local resident walking her newborn baby in a stroller with their dog, Bella, close behind.
“Up, that’s my buddy,” Evans says. “I have to feed her.”
“Well, hello Bella,” she repeats a few times in a high-pitched voice while reaching in her pocket for treats. “She usually sits at the door and cries when she hears me outside so I give her a treat, she takes a walk and when she comes back, she usually gets another treat.”
The reunion is quickly broken up by the sounds of two giggling kids kicking a can down Hermitage Street.
“Ah, these two, they are brother and sister; they do this every morning,” Evans says.
“Hi Mary!” they say in unison as they reach Smick Street.
“Hi guys,” Evans replies as she escorts them across the street. “Have a great day, OK?”
‘I should have done this sooner’
This year marks Evans’ eighth year on the job. Before becoming a crossing guard she raised three children and worked a few part-time gigs at Target, Giant, Party City and Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pa. She still works at Knoebels in the summer as the kiddie park supervisor, but says this job is what brings her joy through the school year.
“It’s a terrific job,” she said. “Everyone says ‘oh, it’s cold and this and that’ but when I was younger, I worked in a factory and when you’re in a factory, you go in and it’s dark and when you come out, it’s dark. I just like being out and seeing the kids; I should have done this sooner.”
The Roxborough native is responsible for getting kids safely across a busy stretch of narrow roads during morning rush hour, lunchtime and afternoon dismissal. On days with low-visibility because of fog, snow and rain storms, Evans says, that simple task can sometimes be a real challenge.
“You really have to watch, some people think this is a raceway,” Evans said. “Umbria Street gets crowded; people will cut through here and get mad when they’re not getting anywhere.”
She adds that her job description doesn’t include directing traffic, but at this specific intersection, she has no other choice.
A hat for every occasion
When you ask Nicholas Ramirez, 13, what he thinks of Evans’ nomination as a top crossing guard in NW Philly, he confidently blurts out, “Yeah, that’s accurate.” For him, it’s her friendly hellos and the shared love of the Eagles that set her apart from the others.
“When they win, we talk about it and we always argue about Michael Vick and Andy Reid,” Ramirez says. And when they lose, “We put our heads down and we don’t ever talk about it.”
And “the hats,” he says. “Don’t forget about the hats! She has one for every holiday.”
For Thanksgiving, she wore a turkey on her head. One year she wore a Mummers hat. Her St. Paddy’s Day leprechaun hat with a red beard is always a hit. For the Christmas season, she wears the moving Santa hat and puts Rudolf antlers on her car.
It’s the little things like a quirky hat or a friendly smile that she hopes will brighten a child’s day in a small, memorable way.
“As long as I can stand, I’ll do this job,” she says. “and even if I can’t stand, then I’ll be here with my walker and two canes.”