SOMERS, N.Y. – For more than three decades, Thelma Barlow stood dutifully at her post two times a day on Route 202 in front of the Somers Middle School and Somers Intermediate School, waving cars through and helping students make their way across the street. Like the pachyderm statue that stands in front of the Elephant Hotel or the water trough in Bailey Park, Thelma has been a fixture in Somers.
“She’s part of the reason that Somers is such a wonderful place to live,” said Supervisor Rick Morrissey. “She’s had quite an impact on the youth in town protecting their safety as a school crossing guard.”
For Barlow, the end of her tenure as crossing guard is bittersweet.
“Right now I’m a little shaky,” she said Thursday, Dec. 21. “It’s finally dawning on me. Hopefully I’ll be a little calmer tomorrow when it’s over.”
Barlow fell into the role almost by accident. After spotting an ad in the local paper for a crossing guard in front of Somers Intermediate School, she agreed to take on the job as a favor to the late Wayne Van Tassell, former town supervisor. However, she told him at the time, the job was only temporary and once Van Tassell found a permanent guard, Barlow would abdicate her position.
Yet there she was last week, doing something she has long since come to love and to do exceptionally well.
Morrissey said her concentration and focus is the stuff of legend.
“You’d drive by her, which I did every morning, and she’d never make eye contact,” he said. “You’d like to wave and say hi to her, but she was totally focused on the kids and the traffic.”
Almost as legendary was her dedication to the job.
“She was on the job in all kinds of weather, including snowstorms,” said Somers Police Chief Mike Driscoll. “She was subject to many close calls because some drivers were not paying attention to her directions.”
Through it all, Barlow never lost her sense of humor and positive, upbeat demeanor.
“It’s a tough job. A very frustrating, stressful job,” Driscoll said. “And she always did it with a smile. Even when she would say to me, ‘Boy, I almost got run over today,’ she would be laughing about it. She took it all in stride.”
Even as her shift was winding down, Barlow’s good-natured mindset was on display. As cars passed by, she was quick to give a smile and a wave.
“I usually give the motorists a little wave to say, ‘Thank you for stopping,’ ” she said. “Because some of them don’t!”
Still, she went on to say, her dedication and tireless work ethic came from a very simple place.
“I enjoyed the job,” she said. “I wouldn’t have stayed on so long if I didn’t!”
Looking back on her 30 years of service, Barlow says one of the best parts has been getting to know the students.
“I really enjoyed the children,” she said. “They’re so innocent and polite. They’re just a pleasure.”
And those she has guided over the years showed her during her last week on the job that the feeling was mutual. Moms poked their heads out of the windows of passing cars, calling out, “We’ll miss you!” and “Happy retirement!” Bus drivers give her a respectful salute as she waved them out into traffic and a massive banner, made by the middle school students, hung from a fence reading in multicolored letters, “Thank you, Thelma!” Taking all of it in is a bit much for Barlow.
“I feel good,” she says of her retirement, “but also a little bit sad. It’s overwhelming, but it feels really good.”
Barlow said she plans to use her free time to take care of household tasks that have long gone undone, but that her volunteer work will continue to keep her busy. Barlow has been a longtime volunteer at Good Shepherd Church and the Yorktown Grange and is assistant district commissioner of the Somers Boy Scouts of America.
While she admits it will be hard to say goodbye to her role as crossing guard after all these years, she also says that when the first snow of 2018 hits, she might not miss it all that much.
“Then I can go back to bed!” she says with a laugh.
For the ones who are left, the job now becomes trying to fill that empty slot on Route 202. Candidates are being considered, but both Driscoll and Morrissey say that whoever steps in is going to have some massive shoes to fill.
“Thelma will be very dearly missed,” Morrissey said. “She’s irreplaceable.”
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