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Guardian of children defies the elements

NORTH TONAWANDA -- Marjorie Clarkson is a widow with three children, but professionally speaking, she has scores of children. She is a school crossing guard, responsible for the safety of children who attend Spruce Elementary School.

At 83 -- 84 in March -- Clarkson is the second-oldest crossing guard in the city. William O'Neil, who crosses schoolchildren at the corner of Oliver and Wheatfield streets, just turned 86.

Crossing guards come under the aegis of the North Tonawanda Police Department's Training and Support Division, headed by Capt. David M. Rousselle. The city has 10 school crossing guards, including two substitute crossing guards and a head crossing guard, June Hy. In total, seven corners are worked.

"The crossing guards have to stand out there in all sorts of horrible weather, and they always show up. You can count on them," Rousselle said. "And Marjorie Clarkson is very good at the job."

Clarkson's husband, James, retired in 1983 after 43 years at the former Spaulding Fibre plant in the City of Tonawanda. He died in 2003. She has two sons, Edward of North Tonawanda, and James II, a 23-year Navy veteran who lives in Georgia, and a daughter, Wilhemina Fieldler, who lives in Cape Cod.

Sporting a yellow vest and wearing a silver Police Auxiliary badge, the sprightly and friendly Clarkson can be found every school day at the corner of Spruce and Christiana streets, shepherding children across the intersection from 8 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 4 p.m.

>How did you become become a school crossing guard?

My husband, James, was a crossing guard after he retired from the Spaulding Fibre plant in 1983. He crossed kids at Pine and Christiana streets until 2001. I started 10 years ago as a substitute crossing guard at Twin City Memorial Highway and Erie Avenue.

>Busy corner.

Yes, it was. I was responsible for sixth-graders from North Tonawanda Middle School. But I moved around a lot in those early days. Every other day they'd put me at a different corner. I was on just about every corner in the city for about the first year and a half. I was on Seventh and Oliver for a while, crossing the kids at Gilmore School. When I started out, I used to walk from my house more than a mile to Goundry Street School. For the last two years, I haven't driven a car, so I've become a fixture at Spruce Street School, which is practically across the street from my house.

>No long walks to the job now.

I still walk a lot. My doctor tells me to walk, so I walk. I walk to the Farmers' Market -- that's more than a mile -- to Budwey's Market, the drugstore, the post office. I go all over with my dog, Shadow. He's my little companion. A neighbor gave him to me for my 80th birthday. I couldn't ask for a better dog. I walk him to the police station to pick up my pay every other Friday -- that's over a mile.

>You have a lot of energy.

I get up at 6 o'clock every morning. I used to get up early with my husband to get him off to work. I suit up and help the kids across the street at 8 o'clock, and not long after 9 o'clock, I'm back in my house having a hot cup of tea.

>It's been pretty cold out there lately.

Last week we had a couple of mornings when it was minus-six degrees. I'm out there for over an hour. My hands and my nose get the coldest. I have a hat with ear muffins, but my regular gloves aren't warm enough, so I sent away for two pairs of some gloves I saw advertised. They're called Anti Freeze Alpine Gloves, so they should keep my hands warm.

>The schoolchildren you help across the street, what are they like?

I couldn't ask for better kids than I've got now. When I was in DeGraff Memorial Hospital for two weeks last January with congestive heart failure, I received get-well cards galore from them. They come from good families. I talk to their parents and grandparents while we're waiting for them to come out of school, and they're all nice. They wonder how I can stand out there in the cold, and it does get cold. They ask me if I'm keeping warm. They offer to bring me back a Thermos of hot tea.

>You're very well known in the community.

I was born here and raised in this house. I graduated from North Tonawanda High in 1944. I worked at a five-and-dime store and then got a job at Spaulding, where I met my husband. All my kids went to Spruce School and graduated from North Tonawanda High. My grandchildren went to Spruce. I've met a lot of people over the years. One man asked me once, 'Do you remember me? You crossed me for five years.' That was many years ago. A lot of people come up to me and ask me that. I don't remember their names, but I remember their faces.

>Capt. Rousselle said you're an excellent crossing guard.

I will not leave my corner until all my kids have been picked up by their parents or safely on their way home. I've had kids who were still waiting for their mother to pick them up until 4 o'clock. I never leave a kid alone.

>There's a story about a crossing guard who wasn't quite as vigilant.

He was 96, I think. He would drive his car to the school crossing and not get out. The kids would rap on the car window. He would be asleep in the car.

>You really enjoy this job.

I love it. It gets me out of house. I get to visit with lots of people. My years as a crossing guard have gone by so fast. I see young mothers go by who are pregnant, and the next thing I know, they're pushing a baby carriage. And pretty soon after that, their kids are going to school.

>You've got mid-winter recess this week, so you'll have a break.

I'll be looking out my window at Christiana and Spruce -- that blacktop over there. That's where I stand.


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