Crossing guard Catherine Drenner says hello to the Sutton family,… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
Catherine E. Drenner has been helping children cross the street at the neighborhood elementary school in Arbutus for a half-century and has no plans to turn in her stop sign.
"Retire? Why should I retire?" said the 80-year-old Baltimore County crossing guard. "I can still walk and talk."
Drenner has worked as a crossing guard at Arbutus Elementary School for the 50 years she has been in Baltimore County's employ. Nearly all that time, she has been stationed at the intersection of Oakland and Sulphur Springs roads, just a few blocks from her home in Arbutus.
She helped former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Del. James E. Malone Jr. make the crossing in their early school days and is now seeing the children and sometimes grandchildren of countless other students, who walked to and from classes under her watch.
"I had five children of my own in school when the county asked me if I wanted to be a crossing guard," she said. "I thought it would be a nice little job to help with the bills and let me treat my kids to pizza once in a while."
Drenner will be among nearly 800 Baltimore County employees honored for service to the county at a ceremony Wednesday at Oregon Ridge Lodge in Cockeysville. She will receive a certificate and pin for her efforts and is the longest-serving honoree by at least a decade, officials said.
"She is truly a wonderful lady who practices that old work ethic of coming to work no matter what the weather," said Officer Karen Nizer, school guard administrator for the county police department, Drenner's employer. "She's old school and truly wants to be helpful to her community."
When she was hired, she took two weeks of training and reported to work in a uniform that included nylon hose and heels, tailored jacket and skirt, and a regulation purse. She has photos of that earlier somewhat-cumbersome outfit and of her training class. The uniform is now a bit more streamlined — shirt, pants and safety vest with the familiar yellow slicker for foul weather. She arrives with a hand-held red stop sign now and leaves the purse at the home she shares with her husband of 58 years, William Drenner.
"I wish all the kids a nice day and a few give me hugs," she said.
In the 1960s, the job provided stay-at-home moms an ideal part-time opportunity, she said. The hours — 30 minutes in the morning and another half-hour at dismissal — let Drenner be home when her children were not in school and gave her a guaranteed summer vacation.
She did not plan to stay 50 years, she said.
"It gets me up and out into the fresh air," she said. She does not mind rain, sleet or cold. "I know how to dress for the weather," she said.
She cannot recall ever calling in sick and rarely takes all the vacation time allotted to her by the county Police Department. "Who needs vacation?" she asked. "I have all summer for that."
Jean Rigg, a daughter who lives in Arbutus, recalls how "over the years, she has given people rides and bought needy families groceries."
The family says the job keeps their mother in good health and spirits, Rigg said.
"We don't want her to retire," she said. "She is our own Cal Ripken. Everybody is so used to seeing her out there."
The county Police Department employs about 250 crossing guards, trained civilians serving area elementary schools. As far as anyone can recall, Drenner has served the longest.
Nizer said more retirees are filling the crossing guard ranks today.
"Our recruitment has shifted to retirees who want part-time work right in their neighborhoods," she said.
Drenner said she will enjoy the ceremony and the barbecue luncheon Wednesday with her daughters but will be back at her post before the bell signals the end of the school day.
"I love it, and I wouldn't do anything else," she said.