by Araceli Esparza
photography by Juan Garcia
Birds’ morning song and the aroma of fresh coffee wake Orville and Maxine Powell up on a daily basis, but the greetings of local elementary school children are what get them on their feet and out the door just as 7:30 a.m. approaches every school day.
A retired lead man of a Pomona welding shop and a former school aide, respectively, Orville and Maxine have taken to opposite corners of J. Marion Roynon Elementary School in La Verne to safely direct children across the street for the past 10 years. The husband-and-wife team is equipped with nothing more than a pair of bright orange vests and red plastic stop signs, both of which have been provided by the city’s police department.
Orville often brings a smoking pipe with which to pass the time after the first bell has rung for school. Sometimes, he may simply sit patiently in his light-yellow Chevrolet truck.
“I got tired of doing nothing after I retired. I had to do something, so I applied for an opening and got it,” Orville, 78, says about his initial interest in the position.
A native of Ohio, Orville says his retirement in 1987 brought the expected hours of leisure; but the added spare time eventually left him jaded, with nothing to do. Maxine’s interest in the crossing guard position was somewhat delayed, as she worked as a noon aide for Grace Miller Elementary School – also in La Verne – until nearly a year after her husband had taken on the crossing guard position.
“A majority of my life I’ve worked at schools,” Maxine says. “I didn’t retire as a noon aide. I just left because this job paid more than the other one.”
Orville says he was introduced to Southern California nearly half a century ago, while he served in the Air Force during World War II. The Powells were attracted to La Verne almost immediately, so their move from the East Coast to the Inland Empire was somewhat expected.
Both Orville and Maxine say life at their La Verne home is not out of the ordinary.
The couple wakes up at about 6:30 a.m. and makes the trek to work. Orville and his wife, take to a designated corner of the school to begin one of three shifts throughout the school day. Orville keeps watch of the D and Sixth streets intersection, while Maxine, 74, keeps busy at the corner diagonal to that of her husband-where Eighth and E streets meet at a “T.”
Tuesday, 7:30 -8:30 a.m.
Only the traffic of commuters making their way to work and the rustle of trees can be heard in the earliest minutes of the Powells’ first shift of the day. The playground has been left lonely all morning, with the exception of a navy blue jacket left near the tetherball courts by one of the school children the afternoon before.
As the morning nears 8 a.m., bright yellow school buses begin parking alongside the “loading zone,” and a continuous row of children hop onto the curb. Part of the group rushes to the playground, while another heads toward the crosswalk, where Maxine Powell is patiently ahead of them as she waits to direct them across the street. The activity continues through just past a quarter after the morning school bell has rung, and, again, commuters’ scurries can be heard.
By 8:30 a.m., Orville and Maxine walk the block-and-a-half distance to their home, although Orville might often drive there, Maxine says. The duo spends a few hours casually resting before having to return for the second shift from 11 a.m. to noon.
Orville says he does not have “much to do around the house, except maybe yard work and whatever you usually do around the house.”
For Maxine, the hiatus between individual shifts allows her some time to eat breakfast, read a book and simply relax.
She says the morning shift attracts significant amounts of traffic from all three corners of her post. The midday shift, however, traditionally brings more foot traffic from students and teachers, as both parties cross from the northern block of Roynon to its southern block for lunchtime.
“I have them coming from three ways, but you just do the best you can to get them across the street safely,” says Maxine. “Sometimes you just really have to be careful.”
Neither she nor her husband was required to take emergency training courses for the crossing guard position. Therefore, being alert and cautious of their surroundings is instrumental in doing the job effectively and efficiently.
“They’d hit me before they hit the kids, but I’ve never had anyone hit me,” Orville says of any accidents that have occurred while on the job. “I’ve had some come close, but I’ve always managed to avoid them.”
Because of the unpredictable risks that come with directing moving traffic, Maxine adds that patience and a degree of assertiveness are also necessary for completing a crossing guard’s responsibilities, especially when dealing with younger children.
“Some of the kids have so much energy and they all want to run,” she says. “They’re not supposed to run, but you can’t stop them from running all the time.”
Officer Chuck Ochoa, crime prevention specialist for the La Verne Police Department and the Powells’ supervisor, understands some of the obstacles Orville and Maxine may be met. He says he is satisfied with the work performance and commitment of the husband-and-wife team, which is unique to the Bonita Unified School District itself.
“It takes a special person to go out there and have three different shifts every day,” he says. “But they’re always there, and there’s no problem as far as them performing their duties.”
Maxine has periodically missed a day at work, and Orville, in the last 10-plus years, has only missed one morning shift. Still, the couple admits the primary motivation to waking up early for more than a decade-even after retirement-goes beyond their paycheck and using up any spare time.
“It’s fun, and the kids also keep me going,” Maxine says. “I get a lot of hugs and they’re always waving at me. They’re all pretty good kids.”
For Orville, the feeling is much the same, though his interaction with students also includes those from Bonita High School, which neighbors Roynon.
“A bunch of them come by and they say, ‘Hello,’ ” Orville says of the high school crowd. “I have no problem with them at all; they’re just on their way to school and back.”
In the process of fulfilling their duties, Orville and Maxine have witnessed students’ advancement in grade levels. The couple’s interaction with children may be as simple as meeting the children at the crosswalk’s halfway point and quickly following them to the street corner. The Powells say the children have, over the years, become like their extended family, although one of their granddaughters is a fourth grader at Roynon.
“She’s down here just about every day,” Orville adds. “She comes down here and visits me just until her mom picks her up.”
Thursday, 2:30-3:15 p.m.
Half past two o’ clock, a swarm of parents are already waiting-in troop formation-outside the corridors and alongside the curbs of Roynon Elementary School. Though the dismissal bell will not ring for another 25 minutes, the children’s caretakers spend time talking to one another or to Maxine and Orville.
“We sit out here and talk while she’s waiting,” says Rachelle Clark, 29, who walks her 6-year-old son, Steven, to and from school every day. “She’s very nice and very good with the kids.”
Clark has enjoyed passing time with Maxine for the past two years in which her son has attended Roynon. She added that the Powells’ husband-and-wife team is well liked by many children’s parents, primarily because they possess the qualities — patience, understanding and courtesy — she feels are essential to working with children.
“She’s very good with the kids, and she just makes sure the kids are always safe,” Clark says. “I hope she keeps the job for the next few years.”
And staying active in the community is part of Orville’s and Maxine’s intentions, as they have maintained their duties as crossing guards year after year. Often times, however, that dedication is met with the need to retire from such commitments in general.
For example, Maxine’s 10-plus years of working with children and constantly moving around have begun to take their toll on her. Though she intends to keep her position for several more years, she is unsure of when it will be time to ultimately stop.
“My old bones are telling me it’s about time to quit,” she says.
Orville’s case is somewhat different, as he intends to stay as active as possible until he decides it is his time to retire.
“Some of my in-laws ask me, ‘When are you going to quit?’ But this keeps me young,” he says. “I’m not one to sit on the couch and be a vegetable.”