Families throw surprise to mark Wilmette guard’s 20th year
Wilmette crossing guard Herb Sheriff helps a Central School student cross at the corner of Wilmette and Forest avenues. Families marked Sheriff's 20th year with a surprise party. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 26, 2013 12:37PM
On many a morning, Herb Sheriff and his hand-held stop sign are all that separate some Wilmette school children from the potential perils posed by hurried or distracted drivers who momentarily take their eyes off the road.
More than just a guardian angel, though, Sheriff has befriended the children and families who’ve crossed his intersection at Wilmette and Forest avenues during their comings and goings to Central School. Students and parents, past and present, showed their appreciation June 6 with a surprise celebration marking Sheriff’s 20th year as a crossing guard, all spent at the same corner.
“Herb has been a very good friend to me and just the best crossing guard ever,” said Samantha Chipman, 13, now a sixth grader at Highcrest Middle School. “He seems to really connect.”
Chipman and her 9-year-old sister Emma, a Central School fourth grader, were among those who circulated leaflets to alert neighbors to the planned surprise.
A cross-section of generations joined in a surprise.
Rebecca Ganellen, a 16-year-old sophomore at New Trier High School, stopped by on her way home from her last final exam of the school year.
“I crossed this corner every morning for four years with my brother and sister,” said Ganellen. “He knows all of our families. He was just a really great person to see every morning. We are lucky to have him.”
Alexa Malevitis, who just finished up her freshman year at Southern Methodist University in Texas, dropped by to congratulate an old friend. “He was always so friendly, and we would always stop and chat,” said Malevitis, 19, who has periodically stopped by to say “hi” over the years since she left Central School.
Neighbors Roger Myerson and Ann Behrens, whose offspring are now young adults, also extended their congratulations.
“I love you guys; that’s why it’s so easy,” the 81-year-old Sheriff told well-wishers, conceding he was both flattered and embarrassed by the fuss.
Sheriff worked as an electrical engineer before he lost his position at age 61 during a reorganization that, he says, put some of the older workers “out to pasture”.
A crossing guard position, working three hours a day split between two shifts, wasn’t Sheriff’s first choice for a Plan B. But he found working with children a sheer pleasure.
“When I first took the job as a crossing guard, I had no idea I would stay on as long as I did,” said Sheriff, who lives with his wife Frances in west Wilmette. “When you are doing something related to children, you either find it more than enjoyable, or you just drop out of it.”
Sheriff said he often thought of his own grandchildren as he halted motorists and safeguarded the crossing of the children. “I am a firm believer that doing good is spread around,” said Sheriff, whose goal has been to treat youngsters with respect.
“I realized how much the kids needed somebody who respected them. The way I’ve gained respect has been to give respect. I give them love,” said Sheriff, “and they give it back in return.”