Crossing guards are Haddonfield’s unsung heroes
At the 3 p.m. dismissal of all Haddonfield elementary schools, children can be seen running about town in excitement and anticipation for whatever the remainder of their day may bring. Less noticeably, in most cases, the crossing guards of Haddonfield can be seen assuming their assigned posts.
“They’re the unsung heroes of our town,” said resident and parent Nancy Sullivan.
“They are the ones who keep our kids safe,” said resident and mother Dawn McCormick.
Longtime resident of Haddonfield Rosario “Ross” Vecchio assumes a post at the corner of the intersection of Grove Street and Hopkins Avenue.
“My granddaughter started going to Tatem. She asked me to become the crossing guard here,” Vecchio said.
After applying with the police department, and figuring out an agreement with the family who owns the corner house on the intersection to park his car in their driveway, Vecchio fulfilled his granddaughter’s wish to guard three years ago. He also fulfilled neighbors’ dreams of having a safer, more walking-friendly street.
“I feel proud, and I think it’s really good for him because he is good with people…it makes the whole community safer,” Vecchio’s granddaughter, Olivia Hilgan said.
Along with his fellow guards, Vecchio puts the safety of children crossing the street at the top of his priority list.
“I’m supposed to be here at 8’ o clock, but I come at 7:30 because of the earlier kids,” Vecchio said.
“He’s the best crossing guard in town,” said resident Michael Feeney, after crossing the street with Vecchio on March 5.
“My kids love him. Everybody loves Mr.Ross, especially his bad jokes,” McCormick said.
Vecchio’s jokes are also apparent to the children.
“He’s always telling jokes to everybody,” said Leo Brickner, a Tatem student who walks to and from school.
At the corner of Glover and Grove streets is another beloved guard, Marianne Mihalick. She is also known to the kids as “Aunt Snoop.”
Mihalick, a retired Cinamminson police officer, received the name after writing articles for the Police Athletic League titled “Snoopy’s Dog Box.” Mihalick explained guarding to be as challenging as police work, in certain aspects.
“People don’t realize how hard we work,” Mihalick said.
Mihalick has been guarding for 10 years, and at the particularly challenging corner of Glover and Grove for five. Because of her previous police certifications, Mihalick not only helps kids and others cross the street, but has the additional challenge of directing one-way traffic leaving Tatem Elementary School.
Karen-Joy Schultz, principal of Tatem, elaborated on the tough position Haddonfield crossing guards hold.
“They’ve always been a consistent, loyal, friendly presence in town,” Schultz said. “The community needs to know they go above and beyond, particularly around Tatem.”
“It’s tough…you’re protecting people’s lives,” said Mihalick’s daughter, Christine Derenzo.
Derenzo guards in Runnemede, and understands the difficulties of controlling traffic flow at the same time as helping people cross busy streets.
“The cars constantly blow their horns…they don’t want to let up or stop,” Derenzo said. “They’re in their warm cars, she’s out here in 14 degree weather.”
Mihalick is used to extreme temperatures of all kinds, as she also used to be a volunteer fire fighter. Still, the brutal conditions of this winter have surprised all.
“They are here in any kind of weather,” Sullivan said.
“With all of this weather, they are just amazing…they were here mornings when it was scary out there,” Scultz said.
Ask any of the guards around town about their jobs, and they may tell you it is necessary for them to be out there at all times, whether schools are openning or letting out. Most also have extensive knowledge of street safety, and are happy to answer any questions from the public.
“You can’t be afraid of traffic. Be aggressive, but careful,” Mihalick explained.
In addition to guarding, Vecchio, Mihalick and other guards go above and beyond the call of duty. Guards bring children gifts and candy on special occasions and during the holidays. Scultz mentioned that some of the guards, including Mihalick, have even knitted sweaters for people in the past, without any direct thanks in return.
“My kids mean the world to me, and I have watched them all grow up,” Mihalick said.
The guards’ contribution to the kids has not gone totally unnoticed, however.
“They give out candy during the holidays…they are always rushing so people are OK…snow, rain, they are never not there,” Brickman said.
“They’re all really friendly. It makes you feel safe when you’re walking places,” Hilgan said.
The guards are allies to all who enjoy walking in Haddonfield. For those who have never talked to their neighborhood guard, there has never been a better time to try it, or show support, especially after this harsh winter.