On a crisp fall morning, Wes Schmidt stands on a street corner along Broadway Street in Newton. He is manning his post as he does every day of the school year. Standing on the corner dressed in a heavy red and black wool jacket and a florescent green reflective vest holding a ?stop? sign with a short handle, he waits patiently for the next child to arrive. As he waits Schmidt waves at passing cars along this busy stretch of roadway. Nearly every driver and dozens of passengers enthusiastically wave back with broad smiles on their faces.
Wes Schmidt has been called ?the happiest crossing guard in Harvey County.? The students at Sunset Elementary School clearly adore him. One youngster on a bike approaches the intersection and with a grin exclaims, ?Hi Wes ? how are you doing today??
Schmidt first took up the crossing guard job 13 years ago. He was assigned to Sunset by the Newton Police Department. He has been working the Sunset crosswalk so long he now helps the children of children he first worked with more than a decade ago. He is now 78 years old and shows no signs of slowing down.
Close to the end of Schmidt?s morning shift, a red Jeep pulls up to the side of the road, and the driver motions him over. Schmidt does not recognize the vehicle, and tentatively walks over to the passenger side window where the driver hands him a fresh cup of hot chocolate from the McDonalds down the street. Schmidt is thrilled. It is a cold morning, and the warm drink ?really hit the spot.?
Dozens of drivers wave and smile in the half hour Schmidt worked that morning. He proudly shares he has had many people tell him that he is a bright spot in their day.
?People tell me that they get up in a bad mood ? but they see me smiling and waving and forget about their bad mood,? he said.
In contrast to his happy nature, the jovial man is all business when it comes to helping the students cross the street. He observes the traffic and carefully leads the student across the clearly marked cross walk, waiting with his stop sign in the middle of Broadway until every student has stepped up on the opposite sidewalk.
Broadway is a busy street in the mornings, and despite the flashing lights and school zone, cars sometimes ?go flying through here,? says Schmidt.
He has a good feel for the traffic.
?I don?t want to get run over,? he says with a chuckle.
He recalls a close call he had a few years back when a driver blinded by the morning sunrise did not see him and did not slow down. The driver returned a while later and apologized. Wayward drivers are not the only stress of his job.
?In the winter when the snow is blowing ? that?s when it?s a challenge,? says Schmidt. But he knows the kids and parents count on him, so he will be there rain, snow or shine.
?I?m never late,? he emphasizes with a serious look on his face.
Schmidt works to get to know all the children and strives ?to treat them all the same.? There are always those children who struggle with behavioral issues, and he makes an effort to give those kids the right advice.
You might think two shifts every day at the crosswalk would be plenty of activity for a 78-year-old.
Cross walk duty is just a small part of his day. After morning crossing guard duty, Schmidt heads to Newton Medical Center where he works as a courier and During the lunch hour, he heads to Slate Creek Elementary School where he helps his oldest grandson who works in the lunchroom at the school. Then it is home for lunch and back to Sunset Elementary for his afternoon crossing guard shift and finally back to the hospital for the evening mail route.
?I am not a couch potato. I enjoy every moment of it. That?s what keeps me going,? Schmidt said.
Schmidt cannot go anywhere in Newton without running into someone who recognizes him. His says his youngest grandson often declares, ?Grandpa, you know everybody ? and I tell him — no everybody knows me.? Schmidt laughs as he recalls a trip to Burger King with this grandson.
?He was sure there would not be anyone there that knew me.? But he was wrong. A group of teachers had just left a meeting, and all stopped by to greet their favorite crossing guard.
Schmidt and his wife of 58 years Betty have five children, five grandchildren and six step-grandchildren. He was born and raised near Medford, Oklahoma.
?I was a country boy,? he exclaims.
His family and the surrounding community spoke Low German, and when he first went to school, ?didn?t talk a word of English.?
He attended a one-room county school through eighth grade and then attended secondary school at Oklahoma Bible Academy. He likened his high school to Berean Academy. It was there he met his wife. They would move from Oklahoma to Illinois and then settle in Kansas.
Schmidt worked for Hesston Corp. for 33 years before ?retiring.?
Raised Mennonite, Schmidt is thankful for his church and the life God has provided him.
?I praise the Lord that he has led me,? says Schmidt.
He is abundantly thankful for his health and the ability to work. He plans to work as long as he is able and the children of Sunset Elementary School will be better
by Kelley DeGraffenreid