By Sylvia Kirkland
Ronnie Long was a retired veteran. But that’s not all he was to most people who knew him. To his neighbors, he was the guy who made sure their back door was closed and the garbage can was taken off the curb. To kids, he was the guy who would commend your report card and marvel over your finger paintings. To passersby, he was the guy with the stop sign helping kids across the street and waving to everyone who passed.
When I was young enough to go to school via his crosswalk, he was there every day, rain or shine. I don’t remember a single absence. Later, every day that I drove by I saw Ronnie out there scuttling kindergartners across the street before or after school. He’d yell and bang on the cars of people going far too fast at an intersection with lots of young children.
Aside from dutifully walking kids back and forth across the intersection, he’d praise a good report card. He’d also remind those who didn’t do so well that they needed to keep on track. Ronnie would look at art, homework, and the occasional frog captured on the playground. He listened to jokes. He probably heard “Why did the chicken cross the road?” a thousand times, and laughed for each one.
He was interested in the kids, how they were and how they did in school. For some, their parents didn’t manage that — but Ronnie did, every single school day.
Along with praise and the occasional gentle nudge back to the right direction, Ronnie Long filled those kids with encouragement. He always believed you could, if you tried hard enough. He taught kids they could be and do anything if they would believe in themselves; a lesson some kids would have missed without him.
Ronnie Long died in May of 2001. At the crosswalk where he stood every single day with his big red stop sign, hundreds of flowers and several huge signs were placed. I cried each time I drove past that spot and saw the names of both kids and parents signed on a big banner tied to the playground fence.
Recently, a good friend and I were visiting former high school teachers, and my friend mentioned to one that he was thinking about teaching. Our teacher looked at him and said, “Don’t do it if you care. These days nobody cares. The kids don’t, and often the parents don’t either. It’s getting to the point that the faculty just works because they’re paid.”
In that moment I realized what a loss Ronnie’s passing actually was. He truly cared about “his” kids. He cared enough to get them safely across the street every day, with good advice about life, for absolutely no compensation whatsoever.
I hope my friend and others like him will rise above a tired teacher’s cynical remarks, and imitate Ronnie. Our kids today need a lot of people who care as much as Ronnie Long did.