Tradition says youngsters should help their elders cross the street. LaVern Weyland, an 80-year-old Korean War veteran, does just the opposite.
Weyland became a crossing guard in 1997 when he retired after 43 years doing track maintenance work for the Santa Fe railroad. He now reports to the intersection of Kansas Avenue and Park Avenue at 7 a.m. with a yellow reflective vest and a two-sided handheld stop sign, where he helps between 15 and 20 elementary and middle school students cross the street until 8:30 a.m.
He returns to the same intersection from 2:50 to 3:30 p.m. to help between 20 and 25 students cross on their way home.
"I call them my kids," Weyland said.
Weyland is one of seven crossing guards the McPherson Police Department employs for McPherson schools. Weyland said he became a crossing guard because he didn't want to sit at home after retirement. At first, he considered being a bus driver, but after a relative told him about discipline difficulties on buses, he decided to look into other options.
"He said you turn it in to the school, and they do something about it," Weyland said. "I couldn't put up with that. I'd put 'em off the bus and make 'em walk the rest of the way."
Being a crossing guard isn't without its difficulties.
"The challenge of being a crossing guard is keeping your cool when parents go faster than 20 mph through the school zone," Weyland said. "You hear people complain about truckers coming through town, but I'd give them an A plus over our local citizens."
Weyland said he used to write down the license plate numbers of people who sped past his crosswalk. Now, he said he'll wave his finger at them, which sometimes gets a negative response.
"I had one man from Missouri come through," Weyland said. "I shook my finger at him. He went down to the stoplight west of me and walked all the way back to call me everything under the sun about what he thought I was for telling him how to drive."
Weyland's response? "Thank you, sir. At least I got your attention."
On one occasion, Weyland got hit by a driver who wasn't paying attention.
"He hit me with his left front headlight and fender and knocked me over," Weyland said. "Fortunately, the cars coming the other way were stopped when I rolled in front of them."
The driver stopped to help him until emergency personnel showed up. Weyland said he had a fractured hip, but was otherwise unharmed.
"I still feel it today at 80 years," Weyland said. "Rheumatism is starting to give me a bit more trouble."
Despite these challenges, Weyland said he thinks the community has a good opinion of crossing guards.
Page 2 of 3 - "They're respectful of what the crossing guards are doing for the protection of the children," Weyland said. "If we were not out there at that crosswalk, probably 80 percent of those kids would not get to school on time. They'd be bunched up there waiting for traffic to stop."
Weyland said parents in particular are grateful for what he does. Over the years, he's received many treats and gift cards from people, thanking him for his work.
"One of the parents came by and had a box about as big as my briefcase," Weyland said. "It had a big summer sausage in it, about five different Hostess crackers, a big bag of pistachios and several bags of chocolate candies."
One of the most touching moments for him was on his 80th birthday. His wife put a birthday banner on the back of his truck, and he didn't notice until he was at the crosswalk.
"Everybody started honking and waving," Weyland said. "I looked over at the elementary school, and there were four teachers doing a cheerleader 'Happy Birthday!'"
When Weyland returned that afternoon, the teachers and students had a birthday gift for him.
"About four kids came down from the school with three balloons and holding a couple bags," Weyland said. "They came up to the pickup and wished me a happy birthday. I looked in one of the bags and saw it was full of cards."
It turned out that bag contained 160 hand-made birthday cards from students at the school.
"They were all wishing me a happy birthday," Weyland said, trying not to choke up. "It was so touching. Even the kids that didn't come to the crossing made me cards."
For Weyland, getting to know the kids is the best part of his job.
"Even as they grow up and graduate, you see them on the streets, and they still recognize you," Weyland said. "The quality of our kids is a whole lot better than I think we as a public give them credit for."
Weyland said he used to give kids pieces of candy as they walked home, but he stopped because some kids with diabetes and other restrictions felt left out. Still, he finds the children that go through his crosswalk are good kids.
"They are respectful. They really are," Weyland said. "As you respect them, they respect you back."
Weyland commanded so much respect that his grandson decided to give him the more fitting title of "Supervisional Safety Manager of the Intersecting Passage of Juvenile Pedestrians and the Vehicle Traffic" because "crossing guard" wasn't good enough.
"I think he was in seventh or eighth grade when he came up with that," Weyland said.
All things said, Weyland doesn't plan on quitting any time soon.
Page 3 of 3 - "How long am I going to do it?" Weyland said. "As long as I'm able."
Contact Josh Arnett by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ArnettSentinel.