When Helen Nitz passed away six days before Christmas at the age of 93, she left behind more than just her four children, six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
She left behind a legacy of care and concern for generations of students who attended several neighborhood elementary schools, the last of which was her post at A. Russell Knight Elementary in the Hunt Tract section of the township.
George Guy, principal of Rosa International Middle School, who previously worked at Knight, said of Nitz, “She was always there, always on time, always pleasant. An impassioned individual. We appreciated her longevity. She will be missed both professionally and personally.”
Nitz was a crossing guard in Cherry Hill for 55 years, the last three with Lorraine Aydelotte, who currently serves as Knight’s guardian.
Aydelotte expressed her thoughts via email, noting what a wonderful person Nitz was during their usual morning shifts. The pair would often plan to show up a few minutes early to talk, catch up and solve the world’s problems.
“Several of the children that she recently crossed, she had crossed their parents when they were young. One of the students from years ago is now her doctor, and every time she went for an appointment, he would tell everyone in the office,” Aydelotte noted.
“She was quite the character, and I learned early on not to bring up politics with her. I will miss her dearly.”
In the fall of 2015, Nitz, along with childhood friend Claire Bauman, were lauded by township council, each for their 50 years of service as crossing guards. They also received recognition for the milestone from the Cherry Hill Police Department as well as the Cherry Hill board of education.
Nitz and Bauman shared a special relationship beyond being long-time crossing guards. The two had been best friends since elementary school, both attending St. Rose of Lima in Haddon Heights and then Camden Catholic High School together.
In October 1965, Bauman’s husband, a police officer, came home one day and informed her the police were in dire need of crossing guards. Bauman passed at first, but informed her best friend of the opportunity.
Nitz decided to give it a try and began working a few days later. The following month, there was still a need for crossing guards, and Bauman finally decided to join.
”We were really close,” Bauman recalled in a phone conversation on Jan. 12. “She started a month before me. The last time we worked was right before Thanksgiving. She was out there, even at 93 years old. We liked it and we wanted to do it as long as we were healthy.”
While Bauman’s sole career locale was outside Horace Mann Elementary, Nitz wasn’t content with that kind of consistency. She served time patrolling the areas around the old Barclay Elementary before it morphed into an early childhood center, as well as Johnson and Barton, according to Bauman.
Fifty years later, Nitz was still there. When the Sun caught up with the duo for a story in 2015, both women said they enjoyed the attention they received for their five decades of service, but what made the honor even more special was being able to share it with each other.
For her dedication, Nitz was honored with a proclamation from former Mayor Chuck Cahn declaring Oct. 13, 2015 as Helen Nitz Day in Cherry Hill.
“My husband died in 1977, and hers died in 1984. Our husbands were friends, too,” Bauman related. “We both had to face things without them and we became closer then. In the later years, we used to go out every Sunday for dinner. It got to the point we were like sisters; if we had anything to say to each other, we’d say it like it is.”
Bauman said that as Nitz’s health worsened over the last few years, she would keep tabs on her bestie with a phone call every day. Then came the day many dread, but are never quite prepared for.
“The last time I tried to talk to her, it was very close to Christmas. I couldn’t get a hold of her. I called her daughter to tell her I didn’t get an answer from Helen, and she took it from there,” Bauman continued.
Nitz had suffered a stroke from which she never recovered.
“I’m going to miss her very much,” Bauman noted. “When you’ve been around a while, it’s nice to be thought about … even if you’re not around anymore.”