Crossing Guard Still Active at 90
HADDONFIELD, N.J. (AP) _ With a smile, a song and a stop sign, Bill Kuehn has helped two generations of students make their way to and from the Elizabeth Haddon Elementary School.
Three times a day, five days a week, Kuehn is on duty at the corner of Peyton and Redman avenues. And at age 90, with a full head of white hair, Kuehn has no plans of giving up his part-time job.
He’s been at it for 24 years _ which seems like forever to someone like Alison Harkins, 11.
``It’s just amazing that he’s so old and he comes out there,″ said the fifth-grader. ``He just means a lot to me.″
Kuehn _ affectionately known as Mr. Bill _ took the crossing guard job in 1974 to make extra money when he retired after 49 years as a photoengraver in Philadelphia.
``I want to keep active,″ Kuehn said during a recent interview. ``There are people who retire and sit and look at the boob tube all day and drink beer and within a year they’re dead. That ain’t going to happen to me.″
A striking figure at just over 6 feet tall, Kuehn has a springy gait as he steps into the intersection with his handheld red stop sign to guide youngsters across the street. He greets many by name.
``I enjoy this. It gives me something to do,″ says Kuehn, a widower and father of a daughter, Betsy, and a son, Bill Jr. ``It’s done me a world of good.″
When Kuehn turned 80, students at the school bolted a metal plaque to a wall proclaiming the spot ``Mr. Bill’s Corner.″ In January, for his 90th birthday, they serenaded him with a cake and balloons and gave him $90 in dimes.
``I think it’s like kind of cool. I like him a lot,″ said Jayne Kay, 11.
The affection is mutual.
``I like them, too,″ says a smiling Kuehn.
Kuehn usually greets children crossing the street by singing ``Good Morning to You″ to the melody of ``Happy Birthday to You.″ The day begins at 8:25 a.m. for the 324 students who attend the elementary school, but he waits patiently for the late stragglers.
``He’s always happy. He’s always cheerful,″ said Devin Newsham, 11.
But Kuehn, who has three grandsons, can also be stern. When a group of giggling girls dallied too long on the corner, he barked, ``Are you going to move or are you going to talk?″
Blessed with good health, Kuehn is rarely sick and with the exception of the week he takes off each winter to vacation in Florida, he is always at his corner for his shift.
Kuehn pulls up in his 1969 green Plymouth Fury III and takes out his orange traffic cones, stop sign and lawn chair. He occasionally sits on the chair during breaks.
Most of the children in the southern New Jersey district walk to school. Some go home to eat lunch, and half-day sessions are held for kindergartners, making the corner a busy place.
While Kuehn may not know all the youngsters by name, he notices when they’re depressed or absent, Alison Harkins said. ``He says, `where were you? I missed you,‴ she said.
``He’s an institution here,″ said Principal Jean Horn. ``Everybody knows Mr. Bill. He’s been here almost as long as I can remember.″
Parents escorting their children to the 85-year-old brick, two-story school building say hello to Kuehn. Motorists passing by toot their horns or give a friendly wave.
``He’s part of the neighborhood,″ said Debbie Kay, 37, who came to pick up her daughter, Jayne. ``He’s always here every day. He’s a good role model.″
Kuehn, who also lives in Haddonfield with his daughter, is active in the community. He volunteers for traffic duty at local parades and events and is president of the borough Auxiliary Police Association.
Asked how long he plans to keep working, Kuehn said ``as long as the good Lord gives me the health to do it. I enjoy this.″