Emily, Sydney, and Justine with Bill Park at the corner of Hwy 20 and Haist Street. DON RICKERS

School Crossing Guard Appreciation Day was last Wednesday, March 24, its third annual observance in the province.

Pelham bylaw officer Greg Young oversees the ten crossing guards who guide children across the town’s busy streets each morning and afternoon.

“They are a dedicated group of professionals, who are out there no matter the weather conditions, with a smile on their face, to ensure the children get to school safely,” he said.

Young noted that the current ranks are filled by folks from a wide range of backgrounds, and include former bankers, accountants, oil and gas pipeline workers, and truck drivers.

Bill Park is 76, and has been an affable presence at the corner of Highway 20 and Haist Street for the past six years

He’s worked as a soldier, police officer, private school instructor, and computer repairer. And currently, a school crossing guard.

“It’s all about the kids,” said Park with a smile. “I’m the bottom rung of the organization that keeps our children safe.”

Park grew up in Niagara Falls, then went England and served in the Royal Marines. Returning to Canada with his wife in 1970, he attended the University of Waterloo, and then became a Niagara Regional Police officer in 1974. He retired in 2000 as an inspector, having served in every detachment of the force. He was an instructor at Robert Land Academy in Wellandport for a while, and then opened a repair shop to service computers.

“You have no idea how badly people can mess up their computers,” he sighed.

When Park finally decided it was time to retire, he couldn’t resist the urge to have a little volunteer gig on the side.

“When I got my knee replaced, the only thing that I could do that didn’t hurt was ride a bike. I found that if I start from my house, over by Niagara College in Welland, and rode up here for a coffee, the round trip was 16 kilometers. One day I met up with a Pelham bylaw officer teaching a new school crossing guard how to do the job. I stopped and we got talking, and he said, ‘Boy, have I got the volunteer gig for you.’ That’s how it all started.”

Park noted that he met Pelham Councillor Wayne Olson, who at the time was also a crossing guard, and a friendship blossomed.

“He and I, our personalities just clicked. We got to know each other over coffee. One day we got talking about our past experiences, and discovered that we were on a NATO military exercise together over 50 years ago. It was in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. I was in the British Royal Marines, and he was with the Canadian Forces. Small world.”

Asked if he had encountered any issues of disrespect from kids passing his corner, Park responded, “matter of fact, exactly the opposite. They’re such a great bunch of kids, every one of them. It’s what gets me out of bed, knowing that a dozen kids in the morning and afternoon are going to smile and say hello.”

And how does a 76-year-old crossing guard spend the modest sum he earns standing his beat?

“Every penny goes into my model airplane account,” he said with a chuckle.