By Wendy Nugent, Harvey County Now
HESSTON—Some children that lifelong resident Laurie Duerksen led across the street as youngsters now are grown up. In public, they recognize her, but she doesn’t recognize them, since they’ve changed so much.
Duerksen started her crossing guard position with the city of Hesston in 2003 and her last day was in May 2021. That’s about 18 years of keeping kids safe, keeping cars in a hurry away from walking children.
“They had a half day and I told all the kids if I don’t see you, have a great summer,” Duerksen said about her last day.
Because there were so many kids, it’s hard for Duerksen to remember all of them.
“I remember a handful of names out of hundreds of students,” she said. “They came and went. They move and they graduate. Once in a while, I’ll see some of my kids.”
While working, Duerksen herself liked to be seen. To help with that, she wore a different hat every day.
“I wore colors to be seen,” she said.
Her bright greenish-yellow vest helped with that, as well.
Duerksen was the crossing guard for all ages of students, since all the Hesston schools are in the same area. Her last station was at the four-way stop at Lincoln and Ridge.
“I did two sections of the crossing guard,” she said. “There’s three.”
She started cross guarding with her dad, LeRoy Duerksen, in the early 2000s.
“He got me cross guarding,” she said, adding he retired from Hay & Forage, now AGCO. And he needed something to do.”
He told Duerksen she could either volunteer for two weeks as a crossing guard or get paid to do it.
“I said, ‘I wanna be paid,'” Duerksen said. “I did the two weeks morning and afternoon. Then after that, it was just afternoons.”
They started working at the Old 81 crossing near the city building. Duerksen said she and her dad used to stand out there, wave at people and wait for the kids. People waved back and even someone blew a kiss.
Duerksen said that during her dad’s first year cross guarding, people brought him cakes at Christmas.
“Over the years, I’ve had people being nice and brought me hot chocolate and stuff,” Duerksen said.
When Duerksen first started being a crossing guard, she’d get an adrenaline rush with the kids behind her and vehicles so close. Later, she just went on autopilot, doing her job.
“I had the same reaction without the adrenaline rush,” she said, adding when she arrived at the crossing, she’d get her vest on and that started her brain on what she needed to do.
“You really want the kids behind you,” she said.
She decided it was time to move on. At least part of the pandemic year was rough.
“One thing, my dad passed away in January, so that made me a little sad,” Duerksen said.
Also, that academic year, the Hesston schools were shut down, but she still was paid.
“So, during the pandemic, I worked for the city doing nothing,” she said.
The schools opened again and she returned to work.
Cross guarding during the cold isn’t always fun.
“The good and bad thing about winter is everybody takes their kids to school and no one walks, but it’s so freakin’ cold, nobody walks to school,” she said. “It’s a great job if you don’t mind being outdoors, like kids and a lot of traffic.”
Duerksen said she compares being a crossing guard to being a prairie dog guard—the prairie dog that watches for danger while the other prairie dogs eat.
“You spend a lot of time thinking,” she said about the job. “You can’t be on your phone. You have to be focused. You can kinda feel the kids and the drivers. It’s kinda spiritual because you’re outside and you have to feel everything—the moods of the drivers, the moods of the kids.”
When her father worked in the mornings, Duerksen said there were a couple of vehicle accidents he had to call in.
“I feel blessed that I never had accidents,” she said. “There were close calls. They were within inches of each other.”
Duerksen also recalled a couple of incidents with children. One time, a little girl was having trouble and former Police Chief Doug Schroeder was there. He took her to school.
“I told her he was very nice and was a dad and was OK,” Duerksen said.
What she liked about the job was being outside and the kids.
“You have to,” she said about the kids. “They start out 5 years old, then they go to middle school and high school, and they graduate. I only got five, six minutes with the kids.”
She said she called all the kids ‘Sweetie.’
One boy told her, “Don’t call me Sweetie,” Duerksen said.
She never saw him again after that.
Now, Duerksen works at Rodeway Inn in Hesston.