By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
When school opens on Sept. 7 at St. Cecilia School in the Fox Chase section of Philadelphia, there is going to be one huge difference. Kathy Polec won’t be guarding the corner of Stanwood and Ridgeway Streets, behind the school, as she has done for 21 years.
Polec’s warm smile and friendly greeting have been her hallmark as she has shepherded countless children to and from St. Cecilia’s, as well as those headed for nearby Fox Chase Elementary School. She has also often gone beyond the call to assist the elderly.
Fox Chase is still a neighborhood where many children walk to and from school, and even parents who drove their children to school would usually leave them in her friendly care at the corner as they hurried off, perhaps to their place of employment.
“I can’t believe I was paid to do it. I really enjoyed it,” said Polec, who was hired by the city as a crossing guard 23 years ago, but served her first two years on another corner.
Despite her protestations, being a crossing guard isn’t a piece of cake. She was at her post every day of the school year, rain or shine, warm sunny days in spring and fall and bitterly cold and icy days in the heart of winter.
For Polec, as with the other crossing guards, the work day began at 7:15 a.m. and continued until 8:45 a.m., when all the children were safely in school. She would be back at her post at 11:40 a.m. until 1 p.m. to guard those children who went home for lunch. This number has dwindled in recent years, she said, because most children now eat at school. Her day ended with the 2:25 to 3:30 p.m. shift as the children headed home.
Polec not only shepherded the sometimes impetuous children across the streets and protected their right of way over motorists, but also knew every one of them by name, along with many of their parents and grandparents.
Born Kathy Esack, she’s originally from Incarnation of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia and a graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School. Her first career was as a legal secretary.
She met her husband, John, the old-fashioned way on a blind date. After their marriage in 1975 they first settled in St. Helena Parish, and then moved to Fox Chase in 1984.
When the children started coming along (three of them), she quit work to be a full-time mom. During the children’s school years work as a crossing guard was great because it coincided with their schedules.
Polec was especially suited for the work because of her unconditional love of children.
“You see their joy and excitement for life,” she said. “You never lose your joy because of their enthusiasm.”
When the children were younger, she was active in the parish C.Y.O., and after the children were no longer at St. Cecilia’s, she stayed on as a crossing guard.
Her life has had joy and sorrow, but through everything, God has been an anchor.
“Your relationship with God determines how you live your life,” she said. “It should be a grace-filled state, and kind and considerate of everybody.”
Everything has an ending. Now she has four little grandchildren, the eldest poised to start at St. Cecilia’s, and that’s the main reason she’s giving up her corner – so she will have more time to help her daughter.
“Yes, I’ll miss it,” she said, “but I’ll pass the school every day.”
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.