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49 years keeping children safe
On the job as crossing guard in rain, fog, wind or heat
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Two young schoolgirls tell crossing guard Dorothy Patterson a little about their day as they cross Ripon’s main thoroughfare heading for their nearby homes. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON —  Dorothy Patterson has helped keep children safe for 49 years.

 She’s rarely missed a day at her post at the intersection by Ripon Elementary School where she is armed with a whistle helping children get safety to and from school.

The job hasn’t been an easy one as harried parents rush to drop off and to pick up their children, often double parking and urging their children to jaywalk through traffic to get to and from the family car.  

As she allows the children to cross the roadway, her eyes dart in every direction, watching her charges come from every corner “like a hawk” with a keen eye toward the stopped traffic,  aware of the slightest movement suggesting any danger.

In observing Paterson’s eye movements, there is no obvious indication of slowing due to her age – she’s there to protect those children. It has been her passion for years.

Some parents completely ignored the crossing guard; however, as she held students at the curb and they attempted to walk their children through her group waiting to cross the street.

She admits that she has had her share of close calls with errant drivers:  “If you let it bother you, you wouldn’t do it.”  

She added that a lot of the danger comes from people just not paying attention.

Patterson said she hasn’t made waves – with some parents talking back to her – only making an issue when she sees it will do some good.  She carries a whistle in her right hand and continues to use it with authority as she briefly stops cars and trucks in all four directions for an hour-long period in the morning and another hour in the afternoon.

Children are allowed to walk in all directions when traffic is halted until the blow of her whistle allows them to drive through her crosswalks.

“Wind and rain together are the worst,” she said.  “I don’t like fog.  When you can’t see a block down the road you just have to listen.”

One of the best parts of her job over the years has been the “young ones” bringing her candy and flowers as they came to school first thing in the mornings.  

She applied for the job when her youngest son, Richard,  went into kindergarten, saying she wanted to be close so that she could keep an eye on him.  The crossing guard/mom didn’t have to keep too much of a keen eye,  though,  as other students would come and tell her what “Dick” had done on the playground or in class during any given day.

“My youngest was onery – thought I could keep him out of a little trouble,” she jested.  

She said she finally waved the children off, telling them to let the teacher report any problem to her.

“I had always wanted to be a school teacher, but I had only one year of college and I couldn’t afford any more,” she said.

Signed on as police matron in 1962
Dorothy signed on as a police matron in 1962. She would be called out in the late night hours to escort women prisoners to the San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp.  She said she’s glad that she doesn’t have those midnight calls any longer, having to get out of bed and report to the police station in uniform.

She reminisced this week, back to her early days in elementary school, when she had a teacher named Mr. Waters in Mackville, Kansas.  She said her small country school would fit within one room at Ripon Elementary.

The only time Dorothy remembers getting into trouble with her teacher was when she noticed a blister formed on the back of a girl’s hand who was sitting next to her.

“I reached over and slapped it and broke it,” she chuckled.

In a Google check of Mackville, KA today, it notes it was founded in 1879 with a current population of 488 with the average daily attendance in its schools set at 351.  The “Big Mama” hamburger is said to be a regional delicacy.

She and her late husband Billy had moved to California in 1959 with their four children in tow.    He worked on the railroad in Kansas and transferred to the Western Pacific in the Golden State resulting in a road trip west for all six of them.  

“I had never been to California and I didn’t realize how many miles you had to go,” she quipped.  And with four children – two boys and two girls – it was a very long time on the road, she said.

She had to leave family members behind including her twin brother Don Anderson who has long served as a crossing guard in McPherson, Kansas. She’s not sure if he is still in that post or he has retired.  

Thinking back, Dorothy laughed saying her brother was the onery twin and she was the good one.  They were in the same classroom at first until he was kept back a year.  That was a relief for him, she said, because when he got in trouble he knew his parents might not know as soon as they got home from school.

She says she’s fortunate that their four children live fairly close to her home in Ripon.

Linda Streeter sells insurance and lives in Ripon and Joyce Porter is a nurse in Ceres.

Son Richard installs poultry equipment for the Big Dutchman firm and Bill Patterson also sells insurance.  In addition to their four children, she and Billy had 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.