Crossing guard Ruben Chacon was patiently standing at the corner of Myrin Court and Pamplico Drive on Wednesday at 1:20 p.m. He was waiting for the early-release 1:30 p.m. crowd from James Foster Elementary School.
“The kids should be out soon,” he said.
A stop sign painted gold, green and white that read, “Just wanted to STOP and tell you thanks for keeping us safe!!!!” lay behind him on his dark blue lawn chair.
As a pair of journalists approached, he began to look nervous and said, “Oh boy what are you guys doing here?”
Chacon was completely unaware of what the James Foster Elementary School community had planned in order to say thank you and farewell for Chacon’s service as their crossing guard, “retiring” for a second time.
“I had suspicions that something was gonna happen but I had no expectation of anything like this,” said Chacon.
Chacon worked as a utility theft investigator for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power as his career before retiring. Retirement left him feeling antsy and he thought, maybe it was time to go back to work, but under a new position.
About six years ago, Chacon took on the role of being James Foster’s crossing guard. The reason, as he repeated several times throughout the interview, “I love the kids.”
A crossing guard’s duties entail wearing a brightly colored vest, walking out into the street with a stop sign in hand to temporarily halt traffic, blow a whistle to allow the pedestrians to cross, walk back to halt the pedestrians and allow the cars to continue passing. For the school, this is done twice a day, once in the morning and the other in the afternoon.
Chacon acknowledges that it is a “simple job,” but something unexpected came out of what he thought was just simply doing his job.
“Interacting with the kids, I actually talk to them,” said Chacon. “I might say hello and wish them a great day and they just turn out to respond to people who talk to them.”
He took his time talking to them. He learned the names of many of the kids, even one girl who has only been attending James Foster for one year. This turned out to make all the difference.
“He takes an interest in the families. He knows the names. He knows our staff. He’s just so, so happy and just very approachable,” said Jayme Rutter, principal of James Foster Elementary School.
One of the main reasons Chacon says the kids seem to gravitate toward him is because he wears “silly hats.”
“I love Mr. Ruben. He always wears silly hats and normal crossing guards don’t do that,” said Lillian Hester, a 6-year-old James Foster Elementary School student.
Chacon owns a taco hat, a burger hat, and more. His “silly” hats are worn on regular school days, but Chacon also loves to participate in all of the school spirit days. He will take the time to go into the office, say hello and make sure he is up to date with all of the special holiday and spirit days.
Wednesday was “winter wonderland” day and Chacon was dressed in white and blue with a Los Angeles Dodgers Santa hat on his head.
Another prominent feature about Chacon – his black mustache.
To tip their hats to Chacon for all his service and wish him off to retirement the kids, staff and family members all wore mustaches of different sizes, shapes and colors as they walked outside of school on Wednesday.
His smile filled with laughter as he saw the kids rocking their Mr. Ruben ‘stache.
“I had no inkling of anything like this,” said Chacon. “I’m just overwhelmed. It’s really nice to be appreciated.”
Each time Chacon entered into the streets and blew his whistle, he was crowded by children all wanting to say goodbye, give him a hug, grab a picture with him or get a high-five. The traffic started to pile up during these long durations of crossing, but seemingly no one seemed to care. If cars were honking, it was at Chacon to say goodbye.
“I thought I was just being nice in the morning and being nice in the afternoon and I didn’t know it was like this at all,” said Chacon humbly.
Chacon’s dark blue lawn chair that once was just occupied by a decorated stop sign was filled with cards and gifts at the end of his shift.
“He is such a special person,” said Rutter. “He has connected with so many students and community members over the years. The kindness and the care that he puts into making our families and students feel welcome is just amazing. He truly cares about this community and he just makes everyone’s day when they arrive and as they’re leaving, sets them on their way on a happy note. He just exudes kindness. He’s the nicest man that deeply cares for the kids.”
At 67 years old, he has found it uneasy to stand on the hill, hence his retirement. But all Chacon hopes for now is that someone will take his place because, as he said, “I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to do this job.”
Whoever takes the position on next, according to Rutter, “has some big shoes to fill.”