Road Queen

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    SPARTA-Everyone seems to know her. She's the woman who stands in the same spot, in the middle of the road, waving her arms at anyone who passes by, twice a day, Monday through Friday. Regardless of the weather, she is at her post and loving every minute of it. Her name is Barbara Nemeth, and she's been Helen Morgan's very own and very special crossing guard for the past six years. What makes Nemeth stand out among her peers, besides her infectious smile, is her overwhelming love for people, "her people," as she puts it. "I think people are great. I love my bus drivers, my students, and my commuters. I think my job is fun," Nemeth said during a recent interview. Nemeth and her husband are the parents of four grown sons and have been Sparta residents since 1991. Her journey to the middle of the road and the center of the community's heart started in a painful way, literally as well a figuratively. Pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis forced Nemeth to give up her wall papering and painting business called ‘Barb's Hang-ups.' An experimental drug gave her a second chance. "I was so lucky that my doctor was finally able to get me into an experimental drug therapy program. Before I could not walk or get out of a chair without severe pain. Now, I feel like a new person," said Nemeth. Feeling well enough to work again Nemeth then took the job as crossing guard. Standing on Sparta Road day after day, Nemeth makes sure the buses filled with precious cargo have safe entry and exit out of the congested school's parking lot and that commuters get to their destinations in a timely manner. She can be seen directing, correcting, moving and grooving traffic with what resembles smooth moves of perfectly timed choreography. Some people say she never misses a beat. "The commuters are so great. You‘d think they‘d be in a rush to get to work but they are always so patient. They wave, and beep hello and say thank you. One morning a man stopped and gave me his hat to wear because it was raining. Other times they‘ve handed me coffee," said Nemeth. Some people have even given Nemeth gifts on special occasions, which have really touched her. "The funniest thing is no matter where I go someone recognizes me and says ‘Hey, I know you.' It could be a parent, a bus driver, commuter or a student, but it happens all the time," she said. For the past three years, Nemeth also has served as a volunteer member of Sparta Ambulance Squad. She became interested in the EMT field after the 2001 plane crash in Byram. "I assisted the two victims, who were children, if you remember. I stayed with them until medical help arrived," recalled Nemeth. "After that experience I wanted to get involved helping somehow in the medical field." But even in her role as a first responder, Nemeth cannot escape her crossing guard fame. She recounted that even some of her patients recognize her from her Helen Morgan post. Part of what makes Nemeth the most recognizable in her job is the fun costumes she has worn throughout the years. "Let's see, I've been Santa Claus, an elf, a pilgrim, and a turkey for Thanksgiving, a bunny for Easter, a heart for Valentine's Day, patriotic Uncle Sam, and for Halloween, a clown, Tweetie Bird, Mickey Mouse, and Elmo," she said. "Dressing up is so much fun, everyone loves it, and they look forward to it, especially the kids" With two school parades and a parking lot filled to capacity with anxious camera armed, cupcake toting, parents and relatives, Halloween is the busiest traffic day at Helen Morgan according to Nemeth. Although she is only required to work in the morning and then later in the afternoon, on that day, Nemeth volunteers her time and works throughout the chaotic day directing the parking efforts of the heavy overflow of parade goers, who, having been closed out of the parking lot, attempt to park on the side of the road or wherever else they can manage it. "That's the day traffic is the worst, and I always feel like I need to stay. Parking on that road, the way they park can be so dangerous," said Nemeth. "But, I always walk over to the parades when traffic slows down to see all the kids, and every year so many of them want to take their picture with me … or Elmo, or Mickey Mouse. It‘s so much fun, I love the kids." This past Halloween Nemeth was informed by the Sparta Police Department, which oversees the crossing guards that she was no longer permitted to wear her costumes while working. "I think they believe the costumes could cause a traffic accident and with the new uniforms, they want us to look professional at all times," said Nemeth. According to Nemeth, her costumes got so much attention from everyone including the commuters who always make comments or laughed as they passed by that they began to expect them for every occasion. But it's the children Nemeth is most concerned about disappointing. "They will expect me to be in a costume on Valentine's Day or Easter, and wonder why I'm not. And the funny thing about this is that wearing these costumes was not only fun but actually slowed the traffic down a lot because everyone wanted to see me or just say hi. That, I will really miss."