By Bob Uphues
What convinces you to retire after 37 years as a crossing guard at Eight Corners in Brookfield?
Well, for Mary Morrill it wasn't the crazy drivers, the hectic traffic, the modest pay or even the requirement of having to stand for a couple of hours at a time.
"The weather," said Morrill, who retired June 5 after 37 years shepherding school kids from S.E. Gross Middle School to and from the Grand/Washington point of Eight Corners.
"The cold, the ice this year, the rain. It was a bad year," said Morrill, who was the department's longest serving crossing guard when she retired. "You just know when it's time."
But after nearly four decades on the job, Morrill didn't hang up the safety vest and stop sign without a little fanfare. Her husband, Tom – who is also a crossing guard at Eight Corners – and the Brookfield Police Department sent Mary off in style.
Just as school let out on June 5, a column of 39 students from S.E. Gross Middle School walked over to the circle. The first in line placed a table on the corner, the second a vase. The next 37 each placed a carnation from Betty's Flowers into the vase as Mary watched.
"She had a wonderful track record," said Brookfield Police Detective Brian Jelinek, who supervises crossing guards for the village. "She never called in sick. I have nothing but great things to say about her."
While most of the dozen or so crossing guards employed by the village – like Tom Morrill -- started the job as a retiree, Mary started when she still had kids in grade school.
"Usually, it's a senior citizen job. I just worked my way into it," said Mary. "It was a nice part-time job and I had my summers off. I could make a little money and still be there for my kids."
The added income helped pay tuition for her kids at St. Barbara School. In addition to the crossing guard gig, Mary was also employed part time for 15 years as the athletic director at St. Barbara.
"The two part-time jobs kept me busy," she said.
About three years ago when the corner where the dental office is became available, Tom Morrill, now 73, decided he'd step into the role after a long career working for the heat and frost insulators union.
"We've been coming to work for three years now, together," said Tom, who plans to be back at his post when school starts in the fall.
Asked what pointers Mary gave him before his first day at the circle, Tom said it was pretty basic: "She said just watch the cars and get the sign high in the air."
There are just three civilian crossing guards at Eight Corners, who are often joined by a police officer. It's a very busy, dangerous area for school kids crossing the streets. The frequent crossings before and after school tend to back up traffic on Maple Avenue and Grand Boulevard, in particular, and traffic can come to a standstill around the circle.
That makes some drivers impatient, and they'll honk their horns and try to pass stopped cars on the right to get to their turn-off streets.
Jelinek says the crossing guards at Eight Corners, like Mary and Tom, all have the same things in common.
"They're dependable and respectable," he said. "They've got to be able to have direct communication with the public and the kids. They take their job seriously, and they do a fantastic job."
Jelinek said he'll be looking to replace Mary at Eight Corners this summer, adding that the guards with the most seniority will be offered the spot first, though he doesn't expect any takers.
"I'm pretty confident people want to stay away from the circle, so it might be a little difficult to find somebody," Jelinek said.
For her part, Mary said the police officers – she referred to them as "our bosses" – do a wonderful job working with the crossing guards and children. While she'll miss the kids, Mary says she'll keep plenty busy in retirement.
"It's sad to leave the kids, but I have nine grandchildren," she said. "We go to basketball games and all kinds of stuff, and we have a lot of friends, so we'll be busy. We're always busy."