Iona Smith, 88, led children across Laurens, Fulton streets

June 29, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

She stood 5 feet, and if not for the policelike uniform and a few age lines around the eyes, Iona Smith might have passed for a grade schooler.

But make no mistake: "Miss Iona" controlled the intersection of Laurens and Fulton streets.

For 25 years, Mrs. Smith, 88, who died Sunday of heart failure at University of Maryland Medical Center, directed traffic and walked students from nearby schools to safety across the street.

"It was as if she owned the intersection," said Sara Trimble, who lives near the West Baltimore corner and entrusted her three children to Mrs. Smith's traffic-officer abilities. "She made sure nothing ever happened to the children. She treated each child like her own."

Mrs. Smith began her crossing duties at Laurens and Fulton in 1952 as a member of the city's first class of crossing guards to staff busy corners near elementary schools. She retired in 1980 -- and had worked the same intersection for her entire career.

During her first few years of duty, she commuted each morning from her home in Catonsville to the intersection for the first of three daily shifts, her daughter, Betty Boone-Capehart of Baltimore, said.

After the morning shift, she'd stay at a relative's house during the day and return to the county after her afternoon shift at the corner.

"She was a servant. She believed that it was good to have a job where she was able to serve people and serve them well," Ms. Boone-Capehart said. "She just enjoyed kids and helping people."

Mrs. Smith, who had a calm disposition, was well respected by the youngsters and was their confidante.

"She was quiet in her way, but what she did, she did from the heart," said Jackie Westbrook-Forte, a friend whose mother also worked as a crossing guard. "She never got angry and had no fear of walking in traffic."

A native of Calvert County in southern Maryland, Mrs. Smith moved to West Baltimore during her teens and attended Douglass High School. She worked for many years as a cashier at an Acme Supermarket in Baltimore County.

In 1955, the former Iona Kyler and Ernest Bernard Smith Sr. married, and the couple settled in Catonsville. Mr. Smith died in 1961. Mrs. Smith moved back to Baltimore after his death.

Friends and relatives said that during her 25-year tenure, they could hardly remember her missing a day of work -- a testament to her love for children and a strong will, her daughter said.

"She was small, but she didn't take any stuff from anyone," Ms. Boone-Capehart said.

Even when family members called paramedics to transport her to the hospital on Sunday , Mrs. Smith had it done her way.

"She said, 'Put that phone down, I've got to put on my clothes,' her daughter said. "She died 45 minutes later."

Funeral services were held yesterday.

She is also survived by two sons, Ernest Bernard Smith of Columbia, and Charles E. Smith of Woodstock; three other daughters, Gladys Ingram of Aurora, Colo., Bernita Paige of Randallstown and Arethia Smith of Baltimore; a brother, Warfield Kyler of Baltimore; and 14 grandchildren.

` Pub date: 06/29/96

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