After shepherding several generations of children across the street to safety on their daily walk to school, Vivian Hartling is laying down her bright red stop sign.
Twenty six years on the job has made Hartling something of an institution at the corner of Hawthorne and Erskine Streets.
“I would love to keep doing it but my hip and my knees are too bad. It’s time to give it up,” Hartling said.
Hartling, who turns 60 at the end of the month, first started as a crossing guard at Crichton Park Elementary School in September 1985. Six months into the job an opening came up at Hawthorn Elementary School, where her daughter Vera was in Grade 1 and son Edward had just started Primary, and she jumped at the opportunity.
Having grown up just one street down, on Thompson Avenue, and a former Hawthorn student herself (the one before the current building), Hartling knew just about everyone in the neighbourhood already. Each September she gets to know the new families on the first day of school and takes pride in learning their names right away.
“The way I look at it, those are my kids ... I’m responsible for getting them across. I take it pretty seriously,” Hartling said.
Hartling has a lot of fun on the job too, chatting and laughing with everybody who passes by, waving to drivers – many of them parents of former students, or the grown-up kids who check in whenever they’re in the area. And, of course, dressing up as Mrs. Claus and handing out candy canes at Christmas.
“That’s such a lot of fun. I love to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they see me,” Hartling said.
Over the past five years Hartling has slowed down as her arthritis has gotten worse. First she added a stool so she could rest between crossing children. Then three years ago she began using a cane to steady her as she stepped off the curb.
“I decided a year ago this would be my last year. It was really hard to make that decision, I love this job,” she said.
In appreciation of Hartling’s contribution to the school and surrounding community a collection was taken, raising close to $3,000. This past week a special surprise gathering was held at the school in Hartling’s honour to present her gift to her and her husband Ken, also a crossing guard for Hawthorn School at Five Corners.
“She’s such a huge part of this community. She will be greatly missed,” said Cindy Payzant, one of the organizers of the party and the Vivian Fund, along with Wendy Lill, a former Member of Parliament for Dartmouth and neighbourhood resident. “Everyone knows Vivian and she knows everyone by name.”
Along with Hartling’s remarkable memory for names and her stopwatch that tracks the school bell to the second, parents have long admired Hartling’s uncanny ability to keep track of each child’s whereabouts whenever they are out on the school grounds and she is at her post.
“I’m always amazed that when I walk up to the school after the bell’s gone Vivian can tell me exactly where Jack is. I don’t know how she does that,” said Shannon MacLean, mother to three.
Although Vivian will no longer be crossing kids, it will still be a Hartling corner as her husband Ken will move into her old spot.
One thing she won’t miss about her beloved job?
“The weather. I’ve had enough of standing in the rain and the wind and the snow. It will be nice to be inside when the bad weather hits,” Hartling laughed.