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Crossing guard finds himself at life's intersection
What started out as volunteering at a local school that needed a little extra help eventually turned into a job that Patrick Manning, 66, hopes to keep for the rest of his life.
“I had just retired and moved to Yuma in 1999. My wife and I sat around, and it sounded like a nice idea at first, but it isn't.”
His wife began working at Gary Knox Elementary School, volunteering with the kindergartners, and one day he decided to tag along with her.
“Then they asked if anyone was silly enough to want to volunteer on the playground in the summertime, and I like the heat, so I went out there and that's how I started working for the school system. Eventually they needed someone to do the cross walk in the morning and I said sure.”
For the most part, he said, people stop at the intersection when he holds up his stop sign to lead children and their families across the street.
“I feel like I get a lot of respect and courtesy from people. Maybe because I wave and I'm friendly and I'm older and they're afraid to hit me, I don't know,” he joked.
While working as a crossing guard, Manning said, he's met a lot of nice people he probably would have never met otherwise, creating lasting relationships with children and their families.
“It's made my Yuma experience so much better. We've found that it's a real great community, it's a lot of fun. People say there isn't a lot to do here but I like Yuma, I like where we are in the world.”
He initially started waving and talking to kids as they would come by, and then the parents and siblings started to wave back and have conversations with him, too. Before he knew it, he was waving and talking with everyone.
Cindy Kerns, an employee at the county health department, said she drives by his corner every day on the way to work and he always brings a smile to her face.
“One day when my daughter got hurt with a serious eye injury, I was on the verge of crying on my way to work and then I saw him and he smiled at me and said, ‘You have a wonderful day,' and I didn't cry after that because it made me realize that I should be thankful that my daughter is alive and she's OK and things are going to get better... You never know how your smile and kind works could affect someone's life.”
Manning said it makes him really happy when he is able to brighten someone's day like that.
“I love this job. I talk about this when I go back East to my family and friends, it's just a wonderful experience.”
Sometimes people will stop and bring him a frappuccino or a coffee and even gifts on holidays, he said. “It's so nice of them to think of me.”
By far though, his favorite part of the job is the daily interaction with children.
“Some kids always have a story to tell me, like what they did on vacation and I'll tell them what I did on vacation. Kids say the darnedest things; sometimes I'll say something silly and they'll say something sillier and then away they go.”
With hundreds of children enrolled at Gary Knox and also at nearby Yuma Catholic High School, he said sometimes it's hard for him to remember everyone's names.
“I try to remember their names, though, because it makes them feel special. When I was in business, a name was important because if you call someone by their name, you have their attention and kids are like that, too.”
After working with the school district for the past 10 years, “I hope I can have 10 more years of this. Kids are so full of life and promise and joy.”
Other than getting involved in his own children's education, Manning hadn't spent much time working with kids before he began volunteering at Gary Knox.
“It was a wonderful awakening — more parents and community members should be involved in education.”
Manning spent his career days before retirement working at Manning and Manning, his father's accounting business that he eventually took over, in his hometown Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He said while he is proud of everything he accomplished in his life, he wishes he would have been a little more involved in his children's education.
“Sure, I went to all the teacher meetings and baseball games, but sometimes my mind was still on work.”
Manning said his advice now would for people to pay more attention their children, go to their schools and be more involved in their daily lives.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.