19 years later, Latrobe crossing guard, 82, still enjoys keeping kids safe
John Dickson of Latrobe can immediately recall the date of the favor.
“Jan. 2, 1999,” Dickson, 82, said as temperatures rose to a balmy 7 degrees along the sidewalk outside of Latrobe Elementary School.
That was the day the late Latrobe Fire Policeman Fred Strickler first asked fellow Fire Policeman Dickson, then a recent retiree from Standard Steel Co., to temporarily fill in as crossing guard at the school due to illness.
Sadly, Strickler was never able to make it back. And Dickson has never left.
Day in, day out, five days a week during the past 19 years, Dickson has taken his normal spot outside the school on Ligonier Street. Sometimes it’s in temperatures below zero or above 90 degrees, but Dickson is there.
He often shows up an hour early, at 7:30 a.m.
“Sometimes some of the kids get here early. … I wouldn’t want to see anything happen,” Dickson said.
He comes back about 3:30 p.m. to help them cross the street on their walk home.
Dickson said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Oh, I like the kids … enjoy being around them. Some of them high-five me on their way in … and a lot of them call me John,” Dickson said. “They’re almost like my own grandkids.”
Dickson said 99 percent of the parents are great. But he admits he’s been called a few names, too … especially if he scolds a parent if they attempt to stop their vehicle to let a child off in front of the school.
“I’ve been sworn at … called a few choice names. But to keep the children safe, you’ve got to take it, and you got to watch you don’t lose your temper,” he said.
Dickson pointed out that stopping and pulling out on the Ligonier Street side of the school creates a hazard because of the traffic sight lines, with kids crossing the street combined with passing traffic. And the drop-off is at the rear of the school, he said.
“Now, we might make an exception if a kid is on crutches. But other than that … no exceptions,” Dickson said.
Not even for his wife, Doris, who used to drop off his grandchildren.
“I’ve treated everyone the same. You’ve got to,” he said.
Although Dickson said he’s been bumped by a car now and then, there have been no serious mishaps as he helps the children, who attend kindergarten through 6th grade.
“Oh, no, never an accident, and I pray we never do. We had a couple of close calls, but nothing,” he said.
Kindergartner Blair Bernard’s grandfather, Fred Rost, has seen Dickson in action over the past five months, and he’s impressed.
“He’s really an asset and knows what he’s doing. You can tell he really cares about the kids,” Rost said.
Dickson works in front of the school, while former Latrobe councilwoman Kim Vingin is crossing guard about a block away at Lehmer Street and Ridge Avenue. Fire Policeman Ed Chemski assists children and parents crossing at Irving and Ligonier streets.
Both Vingin and Chemski praised their co-worker’s commitment for the job that pays $12.75 a day, split between the city and school district.
“Oh, and the kids really love him,” Vingin said.
Vingin recalled the time she took Dickson’s post while he recovered from surgery.
“All I heard was, ‘Where’s John? Where’s John?’” Vingin laughed.
Dickson cracked a smile.
“You should have seen all the handmade cards I got in the hospital,” he beamed.
“Starting your day, being around the kids, helping … it’s a lot of fun.”