Guarding the way for 40 years (with photos)

By Matt Porter

  • Click to enlarge

    DiAnn McConnell honored for 76th Birthday and 40 years of service as crossing guard for Benjamin Franklin Elementary School.

8 photos

June 14, 2013 Updated Jun 14, 2013 at 6:23 PM EDT

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Every weekday morning at quarter past five, DiAnn McConnell calls in to the Franklin Elementary School and lets them know she'll be at her post.

The 75-year-old puts her glittering yellow safety vest and stands guard at the corner of Conklin Avenue and Hayes Street next to her church and across from the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, which she used to attend.

She's the first person students usually see, and she's been standing there for 40 years.

"If the sun stays out we're going to have a great day," McConnell said to students waiting to cross.

McConnell said she never bothered counting, she never expected to stay so long.

She took the job as a way to earn some extra money to spend on her kids. McConnell's full-time job was always as a mother.

"I was only going to do it a short period of time," she said, "Then I just turned around and kept on going."

On a sunny Friday morning, kids wait patiently for the light, and then sprint across the road once McConnell signals the all clear.

McConnell said her top priority is keeping every boy and girl that passes safe.

"A lot of the cars don't want to stop for the light," she said, "And I won't let them go ahead of me."

When one little boy tries to step into the road, McConnell swiftly steps in with a loud but gentle, "Hey!"

She turns to the father and said, "He's just dreaming, he's not awake yet."

And later, like a dream, McConnell finds herself surrounded by the entire student body of Franklin Elementary.

All singing happy birthday to their favorite crossing guard who turns 76 on Sunday.

The students invited the elder guard to celebrate Flag Day with them around the school's flag pole before they turned to her with a box full hand-drawn birthday cards and a poem written on the back of a colored cardboard stop sign made just for her.

"I gotta find an easy chair this summer," she said overwhelmed, "I appreciate this so much."

Parents, teachers and students all raced to hug the joyful McConnell clad in red, white and blue.

Valerie Hampton, vice-president of the Binghamton School Board, said she had to be there for the beloved guard's impromptu party.

"This is my side of town," Hampton said. "Every morning I've watched you with these lovely darlings and I just want to say happy birthday."

Students crowded McConnell, many showering her with hugs.

Principal Joyce Westgate said she could ask for no one more reliable and caring at her crosswalk.

"She knows most of the children by name, she knows most of the parents by name, and in some cases, she knows their grandparents," Westgate said, "So from the moment they land on that sidewalk, children are being monitored by someone who cares about what they do."

The mother of four and grandmother of four more was left nearly speechless by the end.

But she knew the importance of her work.

"Some children don't get a hello or goodbye or a kiss or anything like that from their families," McConnell said, "They need that little extra."

Whether it's a loose knot on a small shoe, wiping a tear on a child's face or a simple embrace, McConnell's past 40 years at Benjamin Franklin Elementary have been about much more than ensuring a clear street for children to cross.

More than a crossing guard, kids and parents say. More like, a crossing guardian.