Retiring Arlington Heights crossing guard 'like a second mom'
Friday marked the last day of school for many children in the suburbs -- and for an Arlington Heights crossing guard who's seen many of those kids grow up.
Lois Wardecki retired Friday after 17 years of manning the corner of Oakton Street and Belmont Avenue in Arlington Heights. In that time, she became part of the community fabric -- and eventually part of the family for some of her students.
"She's just like a second mom for the kids out there on the street," said Laura Thielen, who lives near Wardecki's posted spot. "She cares about those children and knows what's going on with birthdays and graduations. She starts off their day in the morning, then ends their day by asking, 'How was your day?'
"She's like a family member watching out for them," said Thielen, a mother of four children who have attended nearby Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary.
Wardecki, 71, affectionately called "Ms. Lois" by the schoolchildren, became a crossing guard in the 1990s after spending 28 years in the packaging department at Avon in Morton Grove. She's been assigned to the same corner since then, helping students get to and from Olive-Mary Stitt and St. James schools, except for a five-year break when she worked in day care.
"I've watched them grow up," Wardecki said of the students she's helped cross the street. "They enthuse me. They kept me going."
Wardecki, of Wheeling, said she plans to enjoy her retirement and travel more with her husband. But she's also promised to come back to her old stamping grounds.
Thielen, who has been known to bring coffee out to Wardecki on cold mornings, and Christmas presents, also plans to stay in touch.
"For her, it's not just a job. It's not just a paycheck," Thielen said. "She's everything you would want in a crossing guard and everything you'd want for someone working with your kids."
"She's very, very special to us."