After 18 years, popular crossing guard signs off
Look for some sad faces among the thousands around town who used to cross the busy Harvest Road-Black Avenue intersection on the way to Walnut Grove Elementary and Harvest Park middle schools. Pleasanton's longest-serving crossing guard Sherrill Hamilton is stepping down today after 18-1/2 years on the job, the last 16 at the same corner. Married for 41 years to Roy Hamilton, the couple grew up in Pleasanton and lives in the same yellow-painted historic house on St. Mary Street which Roy moved into with his parents in 1949. The house was built in 1901 by the Orloff family, which owned the Orloff Dairy where Walnut Grove is now located. Grandson Tom Orloff, who is now Alameda County District Attorney, is Roy Hamilton's childhood friend.
Sherrill Hamilton answered a crossing guard ad in 1989 when her youngest child, Keith, was in high school. She wanted to do something outside the home, but no full time. She recalls starting for about $6 an hour for five hours of work; most recently she earned $9.90. It's not the money, though, that has kept her going. She truly loves the job and the children she serves. Some are now grown and married; others are in high school and college. Often they'll spot her on Main Street or even sitting on her porch and stop to talk.
She keeps tabs both on students and the adults they're with, stopping anyone whose guardian she doesn't recognize for an introduction. There's been only one "stranger danger" case, as the children called it. That was when she spotted a man sitting in his car for several hours in front of Walnut Grove. She notified police who found he was a drug dealer with a car filled with paraphernalia and pornography. He was led away in handcuffs never to be seen again. She has also joined parents in frantic--but always successful--searches for wayward children, most who simply got lost on their walk home. Others were back at Walnut Grove for an after-school function they forgot to tell their parents about.
Many of us remember being school crossing guards when we were in the upper grades, a sponsored student function. Sherrill said that became too risky as traffic and school enrollment increased. The school bus program ended shortly after she started, and the number of children walking to school more than tripled. Also doubling were the number of cars driven to and fro by parents. Sherrill likes all parents, but says some are the worst when it comes to obeying stop signs, including the one she holds, when they're driving to pick up their children.
Students also can be careless, but Sherrill always spent the first few days every school year telling kids who use her corner to pay attention to her or else. They have, and with much affection. She's honored every Christmas and Valentine's Day with gift baskets and thank you notes. Last Wednesday, Superintendent John Casey and many from the school board and district office and parents who had been alerted in advance paid a surprise visit to Sherrill as school let out, showering her with gifts, flowers and a special certificate from the district. Today will be less eventful, she said, but also sad, although she's looking forward to joining her husband Roy, who is retired, on more trips to see their daughters: Cynthia Jo Twiddy of Healdsburg and Nina Schrote of Williamston, Mich. Altogether, the Hamiltons now have eight grandchildren, including their son Keith's three who live in Pleasanton. Two of them already go to Walnut Grove and the youngest will start kindergarten there next August. So Sherrill says she'll still be stopping by the school regularly, although this time as one of the many drivers lined up in the school driveway to pick up their students when school lets out.