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School crossing guard helps clear up the confusion

August 25, 2006|by ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Wednesday morning's bus routes were a confusing mess.

It wasn't clear which children got on which buses, said June Benchoff, the crossing guard at Locust and Washington streets in Hagerstown.

The first day of school usually is that way, she said.

Benchoff, 81, knows what she's talking about. She has been a fixture on the city's streets since she started working as a crossing guard in 1957.

Benchoff isn't much taller than the elementary school children that cross at her corner on their way to buses bound for Eastern Elementary School, but she said she is strict.

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"I tell them, 'I'm here for your protection,'" she said. "I've got to keep my eyes and ears open, I got other people's children to look out for."

Benchoff is a commanding presence in her black pants, crisp white shirt, iridescent green vest and black-and-white hat. She doesn't have to wear the hat, but she said it looks more professional.

She needs to be strict because children fight more these days, she said.

"There have been some scraps. I'll say, 'Break that up,'" she said.

Children also try to sneak stuff on the bus when they shouldn't, Benchoff said. Once, she confiscated a knife. Another child tried to a take a hypodermic needle onto a bus, Benchoff said. In the winter, they sneak snowballs onto the bus.

Not all the children cause trouble.

"Some kids are very nice. I don't hear a word out of them," she said.

Benchoff said she enjoys her work, except for when it's windy.

"I do the best I can do for my age. I'd love to keep this up," she said.

Last year, she didn't miss a day of work.

Every morning, she walks three blocks to her post and three blocks back to her house on East Baltimore Street. She repeats the routine in the afternoon.

Benchoff said she started working as a crossing guard when she lived with her parents. She continued after she got married, but took some time off when she had her son, Rick, 47.

Widowed since 1999, Benchoff said the extra money is useful.

"I've got bills to pay. Lights, cable, phone, lots of taxes," she said.

Every once in awhile she plays bingo at the Eagles Club or visits Wal-Mart or the mall. She also goes to lunch with a friend every once in awhile, she said.

"I'm my own person. I don't have no boyfriend," she said. "I don't think I need a man in my life at my age."

Now that school is back in session, her work will keep her more occupied.

"This gets me going. I'm not going to quit unless I've got to," she said.

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