For the past 45 years, being in Dorothy McMillan’s corner has been a very safe place to be.
The veteran crossing guard, who is turning 83, returned her vest and hand-held stop sign last week at Columbus City Hall.
But her fellow crossing guards, her family and friends, and her supervisor, Lisa Williams, couldn’t let her leave without a moment of celebration and thanks for the thousands of children who traveled to and from school under her watchful eyes.
There was a proclamation from Mayor Kristen Brown declaring Dorothy McMillan Day and kind words from Police Chief Jason Maddix, who drew laughs when he joked: “Dorothy’s been doing this longer than I’ve been alive,” adding “that’s pretty impressive.”
Willliams, a city records supervisor, decided to surprise McMillan with the farewell party because of her dedication to the kids and to the job, and because McMillan has been “a blessing to have as a guard.”
She is loved by everybody, Williams said.
That love was apparent when McMillan entered the room to hugs and smiles from one Columbus family who is already missing her as their crossing guard.
Laura Plessinger brought Clayton Day, 13, Emmalea Starks, 9 and Jamall Starks, 9, who are all big fans of Dorothy’s work as a crossing guard. She’s only been gone for a few days, and they say she is already missed, deeply missed.
“She’s funny — she makes us laugh,” Jamall said after getting a hug from Dorothy. “She’s our friend.”
It was hard for Dorothy to put into words how much she will miss being a crossing guard. “I will just miss the kids mostly,” she said. “They have been special.”
Up for the unpredictable
Crossing guard duty is not for the faint of heart, as Dorothy can attest.
Kids can be unpredictable — early, late, or just having a bad day. There are occasional disagreements to break up.
There are impatient drivers, parents who are rushing on to other tasks, kids looking for lost homework or forgotten lunches. And the weather can be brutal.
Through the years, Dorothy has worked in all kinds of conditions, from snow and sleet to pouring rain.
“I always tell everyone I dress for it,” she said, adding she does have a snowsuit. And an umbrella. That she shared.
Through the years, she has gathered a large collection of student school pictures and mementos and gifts from parents and kids who have been grateful for her patience, caring and understanding.
In another part of City Hall, a former student also remembered Dorothy’s presence — back when he was 12 and riding his bike to school and crossing at Brooks and Illinois streets.
Shane Ross now works in maintenance for the city. He’s 42, but he remembers Dorothy kept him in line all those years ago.
“One time, I came up to the corner, and I thought, you know what, I’m going,” he said. “And she let me have it. She let me know who she was going to tell if I ever did that again.”
After that, Ross made sure to get off his bike and walk it across the street as Dorothy made sure traffic was stopped.
One of the main things Ross remembers is that Dorothy always called kids by their names — she knew all “her” kids.
He’s still her kid and gave her a hug when she recognized him as she was walking into City Hall.
Her 1969 start McMillan started her career as a crossing guard on Sept. 5, 1969, when she was 38 years old, a stay-at-home mom who wanted to make a little money while raising three kids with husband, the late Bill McMillan. The pay then was about $5 a day, and it’s now up to about $33 a day.
But it really wasn’t just about the money, according to Dorothy’s daughter, Paula Turnbow.
“She just had a passion for it,” her daughter said. “It was a very hard decision for her to stop. But I think God’s hand has been in it.”
Brown lauded Dorothy’s diligence, describing her as a “devoted and dependable employee who genuinely cares for kids.”
In the times she needed a substitute, Dorothy was sure to call back and make sure the sub knew exactly what to do for her kids on the corner while she was away, the mayor said in her proclamation.
Dorothy will now turn her kid skills to spending some time indoors with the Care Club at East Columbus United Methodist Church, reading to youngsters and volunteering there.
And when she misses her time at the corner too much, there’s always her refrigerator to visit, where pictures and cards from “her kids” await, and one special picture is particularly cherished.
Dorothy’s granddaughter, Hayley Nichols, found it in a coloring book when she was in elementary school and, after finishing it, gave it to Dorothy.
Hayley is 29 years old now, but the picture she created is still on her grandmother’s refrigerator.
It shows an angel holding up a stop sign, with the message, “Grandma, you’re the best.”