By NICK DIAMANTIDES
Nelda Crouch is not an ordinary crossing guard. Her contagious smile and genuine concern for children has captured the hearts of many people in Long Beach.
Crouch has been a crossing guard for eleven years, working the last few in the California Heights area, most recently at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Bixby Road. She retired last week because of pain in her hips.
“Nelda has been one of the best, most dependable crossing guards we have ever had,” said Cathy Medina, Long Beach Police Department crossing guard supervisor. “She has always been very dedicated to the children and the community and a most wonderful person to work with. We will all miss her very much.”
Crouch worked hard as a devoted stay-at-home mom for many years before becoming a crossing guard. She brought a mother’s love to the children she served on street corners near the city’s schools.
“I love to be with the kids and interact with them,” she said. “They all have good days and bad days and I have always tried to give them encouragement when they needed it.”
Crouch said one of the most rewarding aspects of her job was that the kids thought of her as an aunt or a friend, not just a professional crossing guard. “I would always greet them with ‘Good morning, how are you, have a nice day’,” she said. “And when they came back (after school), I would say, ‘Did you have a nice day, have a good evening’.”
Crouch said she was thankful that neither she nor any pupils got struck by a car while she was on duty. She noted, however, that there have been quite a few close calls― all of them due to driver negligence.
“Just about a month ago, right here at Bixby and Orange, an older gentleman was making a left turn off Bixby going south on Orange, and I was crossing a young boy holding a skateboard,” she said. “The older gentleman never stopped or slowed down and just kept right on going. He came very close to hitting us.”
Another close call occurred when she was working as a crossing guard in the Belmont Shore area. “It was at Will Rogers School, where there is a two lane street and you have to stop the traffic because there are no stop signs or traffic lights there,” she said. “I always gave lots of room for the cars. I didn’t just automatically go out there and stop them. But while I was crossing, this young guy came flying up and flew right past me, while I was in the middle of the street.”
She noted that another motorist witnessed the near miss, wrote down the car’s license plate and offered it to Crouch. “I told him it would do no good because such cases can only be prosecuted if they are witnessed by a police officer,” she said. “I guess that is one of the frustrating things about this job. I have seen many, many times when drivers have violated traffic laws putting lives in danger, but there is nothing I can do about it.”
Couch said that in her 11 years as a crossing guard, none of the children she has helped ever told her about parents who are abusive or use drugs. “I’ve never encountered any of that, but when I was stationed at Orange and Carson, I did see a little girl on the corner that I didn’t recognize so I started talking to her,” Crouch said. “She said she went to Claire Barton School (one mile north of Carson Street) and her mom hadn’t picked her up so she was walking home. But I found out she was going in the wrong direction.” Crouch phoned her husband, who then phoned the school in North Long Beach. A short while later, a school employee arrived in a car and took the girl home.
Another time, a very disoriented elderly man came walking across an intersection where Crouch was working. She talked to him briefly and made some phone calls. She found out that the man had Alzheimer’s disease and had wandered away from a nursing home several miles away. “We were able to connect with his daughter, who came by and picked him up,” Crouch said. “Later she brought me flowers. I love to help people. That gave me a very good feeling,”
Crouch said she never witnessed any crimes while on duty, but one time she saw a waitress chasing a man who had not paid his bill at a nearby restaurant. The most serious behavioral problem she witnessed was the use of foul language. “I would always correct them when I heard that, and most of the kids responded well to my correction,” she added.
Crouch lives in Long Beach with her husband Ralph. They have two grown children, a daughter, Julie, and a son, RJ.
“I have mixed emotions about retiring. A lot of the kids are telling me ‘Do you have to retire? We are going to miss you’,” she said. “I have told them that I will come by to visit them sometimes.”
Over the years, many people have asked Crouch how she manages to always have a smile on her face and how she is able to express such love and concern for every kid she meets. “I give my Lord, Jesus Christ, credit for that,” she said. “He gives me all the love and joy I need. I just want to share those things with everyone I meet, especially the children.”