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Published: Wednesday, 5/27/2009

Temperance grossing guard hangs up stop sign

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - After 27 years of guiding youngsters across heavily traveled Jackman Road, Merritt Mueller is hanging up his stop sign and neon orange reflector vest.

Mr. Mueller, 71, began working at Jackman Road Elementary as a school crossing guard about two years after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that has caused him to lose most of the mobility in his legs.

His final day will be June 9, the last day of school.

"I think it is time to let somebody else do it," said Mr. Mueller of Temperance.

Multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease in which the immune system attacks the protective covering around the nerves.

Mr. Mueller began working at Jackman Road Elementary as a school crossing guard about two years after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that has caused him to lose most of the mobility in his legs. Mr. Mueller began working at Jackman Road Elementary as a school crossing guard about two years after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that has caused him to lose most of the mobility in his legs.
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It is no easy task for Mr. Mueller to work as a crossing guard at the elementary school.

Twice a day, he must load and unload his motorized chair from the back of the family mini-van that he drives to the school parking lot.

He arrives early at the school, navigates to the back of the vehicle by clinging to its side, and operates the motorized hoist to remove the battery-powered chair to the ground. Then he is off and rolling.

"Good morning. How are we today?" he asked 11-year-old Cara Schafer, who was the first to arrive at the cross walk on a recent sun-drenched morning.

Cara's mother, Donna Schafer, said Mr. Mueller will be missed by the parents and kids who live in the Stoney Creek neighborhood.

"He is like a fixture. He is great for the kids," she said. "He always has a smile and greets the kids."

Mr. Mueller is a stickler when it comes to the children's safety, and often warns youngsters to stay back from the busy street until he gives approval to go forward through the crosswalk.

"You got to stop, look, and then go," he tells them.

And, there have been some close calls because motorists apparently weren't paying close enough attention to the warning signs for the school zone.

"I have had drivers slam on their brakes and heard the tires squeal," he said.

Jim Heer, assistant principal at Jackman Elementary, said Mr. Mueller has been dependable and conscientious and serves as a role model to the youngsters.

"He has been an inspiration to all of us who are not physically challenged. He has been at the cross walk in the snow and ice and rain and shine," said Mr. Heer, who is retiring after eight years with the district. "We cheer him for his dependability."

A Petersburg-area native and 1957 Summerfield High School graduate, Mr. Mueller was a skilled mason before multiple sclerosis forced him to lay down his trowel in 1980.

He had established himself as a successful self-employed contractor, employing about 35 other bricklayers in his firm that specialized in laying brick for homes and rebuilding the inside of industrial furnaces at glass factories.

For the last several years, Mr. Mueller has taken a two-month hiatus from the school cross walk to vacation with his wife, Rosemary, in Florida.

He and Mrs. Mueller, who works at Jackman Elementary as a teacher's aide, tutoring and assisting special-needs children, plan to add several months to their annual winter trips.

In the nearly three decades that he has been on the job, Mr. Mueller has observed a decline in school-age children who live in the Stoney Brook subdivision.

"When I first started here, I used to have 30 to 50 kids. The area is growing older. They don't have as many kids," he said.



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