Pulling her winter coat tight against the wind, Mildred McClure marched into the middle of the street with a jaunty wave to the parents at the curb.
"Hi, how you doing?" she called out to one of the volunteers leaving Brooklyn Park Elementary School. Then, checking her watch, she assumed her post just as the bell rang.
On cue, a swarm of children raced out the school doors and headlong across the street. With a stern hand motion and a toot on her whistle, McClure, 63, kept the traffic at bay.
Two little boys stoppedto give her a hug. Another pupil wanted to show her a picture. A neighbor waved hello, and several parents greeted her.
For 18 years, the petite woman with the big smile has been a fixture outside Brooklyn Park Elementary.
Five days a week, she has braved the rain, snow and heat to guide children safely across the street. She's hugged thousands of children, waved to countless parents and became close friends with neighbors who live at the corner of 14th Avenue and Marshall Street.
"I just love children," McClure said, explaining why shekept her job as a crossing guard long after her own three children had grown up. "I hug them. I kiss them. I talk some, and I walk with them."
On Friday, she will hug the children for the last time. Twenty-seven years after becoming a crossing guard, McClure is retiring.
She has mixed emotions about leaving her post at 14th Avenue, where she has been since the school system was integrated in 1973. But her 37-year-old son is sick and needs her attention.
"I've been hereevery day, just like -- what is it the post office says? Rain, snow,hail and all," she says with a laugh and then a sigh.
Her late husband, Theodore McClure Sr., worked at a post office in Baltimore until he died in 1972. He met and wooed her in Cambridge, where she grewup in a close-knit family of five. After the couple married in 1953,they moved to Pumphrey, a small, predominantly black section of Brooklyn Park.
"Miss Mildred," as she was fondly known by several generations of school children, guided her first group across the street in 1964. At first she was only a substitute, but McClure soon had a post of her own on Belle Grove Avenue. She fell in love with the work.
Now, standing every afternoon outside Brooklyn Park Elementary, aone-story school in the heart of Old Brooklyn Park, she would chat with the children and tell them, "You need education, because you don't get anywhere without it."
She always had a smile, a hug or a kiss for them. "She gave some of them over there more love than their parents," said Nora Nicholson, a neighbor who struck up a close friendship with McClure.
Always dressed in uniform, wearing a fresh whiteshirt, tie and gloves, McClure appeared punctually every day, exceptwhen she was very sick, Nicholson said.
The school's most faithful crossing guard is leaving her post with sadness but also with a sense of fulfillment.
"I do think that one of the best things is loveand sharing love," she said. "And I think over the years, I have shared love with many."