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Waving crossing guards are ‘a ray of sunshine’ in Irondequoit

Marcia Greenwood
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Mary Beth Egeling met Christopher and Rochelle Harris in August 2019 at the Irondequoit Farmers Market on the Town Hall campus.

Egeling, crossing guard coordinator for the Irondequoit Police Department, was there directing traffic.

The Harrises stopped to ask her a question about the Irondequoit Public Library. Egeling didn’t have an answer, but they got to chatting and she learned that Christopher, 64 and a retiree, was looking for a part-time job.

Egeling had positions to fill.

Something about his manner struck her. “Call it intuition,” she said, so she asked Harris whether he might be interested in applying for work as a crossing guard. He said he would.

“And his wife, Rochelle, said ‘Well what about me? I want to be a crossing guard, too,’” Egeling recalled.

“I just really felt good about their vibe when I talked to them for the few minutes that I did,” she said of the Rochester couple.

After successful tryouts, in October 2019 the two were assigned to posts; Christopher Harris’ crosswalk is on St. Paul Boulevard at Leland Road, and Rochelle’s is on Seneca Avenue at Rawlinson Road.

In a relatively short time, they’ve made big impressions.

“They are dedicated, they’re attentive, they’re really concerned about student safety,” Egeling said. “But they also really care about the human condition, and they really want to do something to make a difference in everybody’s day.”

By all accounts, they do.

Christopher Harris has distinguished himself for waving at every single motorist who drives by him on weekday mornings and afternoons.

During training, Egeling pointed out that crossing guards often wave at motorists. Harris “pretty much politely but strongly stated he would not be that guy,” Egeling said. “I told him being ‘a waver’ was not mandatory, and we left it at that.”

But then it just sort of happened. After accompanying his very first student across St. Paul, Harris instinctively waved at a passing car, “and people started responding,” he said.

So he kept doing it. And people kept responding. Before he knew it, he had started a wave — and Egeling started “hearing tales of the waving crossing guard,” she said.

Christopher Harris of Rochester, a crossing guard with the Irondequoit Police Department, waves to cars as they pass by him on St. Paul Boulevard near Leland Road on Nov. 20, 2020.

About a mile and a half away at her post, Rochelle Harris has become known for waving enthusiastically, too.

“If I can bring a smile to someone’s face with a simple wave, it’s worth it,” said the 43-year-old, just as a school bus turned onto Rawlinson, at which point she stopped to ask, “Is that my bus driver? Yup. This is my honking bus driver." She waves at him every single day. He honks in return. “So, yeah, he’s pretty awesome,” she said.

People recognizing each other in small ways, friendly human interactions, have always mattered. But perhaps never more than now.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, “Everybody is stressed beyond some of our capabilities,” Egeling said, “and I really believe that that consistent person, that friendly person, that person who’s there just because they want to be” makes a big difference, she said. “They do their job — and it’s important.” But secondarily, by waving, they offer “that little ray of sunshine,” she said, conveying the idea that “I care, and everything’s going to be OK.”

Rochelle Harris of Rochester, a crossing guard with the Irondequoit Police Department, waves at vehicles going by on Seneca Avenue and Rawlinson Road on Nov. 19, 2020.

Everybody who drives by Christopher Harris waves back, he said. Some people toot their horns. Some even pull over to thank him.

“I had one lady stop me the other day,” he said. “She said, ‘You know what? By you just waving, it makes my day.’ And I said, I’m so happy to make your day.”

Fans of the Harrises and other Irondequoit crossing guards also post words of appreciation to Facebook, and they reach out to Egeling to say, for instance, “The crossing guard at (Genrich’s Garden Center) and Cooper is amazing,” she said.

Crossing guards also send Egeling pictures of the gifts they get from motorists — cups of coffee, flowers, tins of cookies.

“But I also get feedback when they’re not there,” she said. “For example, if Chris needs a day off, I will get a phone call, multiple phone calls — ‘Where’s the crossing guard at Leland and St. Paul?’ or ‘Where’s the crossing guard at Pattonwood and St. Paul?’ So it’s not just when they’re there that I get feedback, but it’s also in their absence, they’re recognized as not being there. And that tells me that they are very important to the community at large, not just the students.”

Christopher Harris is quick to point out that friendliness — it's a two-way street.

“When I see other people, when they wave back at me, it makes me feel good,” he said.

So much so that at times lately he’s been inspired to do a little dance.

“I put more out there because I know this COVID thing is bad on people and people need cheer, they need to be cheered up,” he said. Waving or dancing is his way of telling them, “Hey, we can make it through this, we can do it together,” he said.

Said Egeling of all the Irondequoit crossing guards, “They’re very visual, and they’re a reminder for the community that there is that positive constant in the universe.”

Reporter Marcia Greenwood covers general assignments. Send story tips to mgreenwood@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaGreenwood.