For many years, on my way from Hillsborough to my job at Merrill Lynch on Scotch Road in Pennington, I’ve been driving past the intersection of Pennington Harbourton Road and Timberlane Drive, where a crossing guard exchanges waves with people passing by, mostly to children on their way to Timberlane Middle School or Hopewell Valley Central High School.
A while back, I started waving to him too, and always said I should stop and say hello one day. I promised myself that day would be Sept 7, the first day of school. And it was. He agreed to meet at Dunkin Donuts the following day before his shift. We had a cup of coffee that Friday morning and I got to know “The Waving Crossing Guard” a little better.
His name is Phil Bappano and he and his wife, Mildred, have been residents of Hopewell for 45 years. They have three grown children: a son, Phillip, who lives in Texas; and two daughters, Nancy and Susan, who still live in the area. He also has nine grandchildren.
In the early 60’s, during the Vietnam War and the Bay of Pigs Missile Crisis, Phil served in the Navy for four and a half years. After that, he worked on the production of nuclear medicine at Bristol Myers–Squibb for 30 years before retiring.
Not one to sit around and do nothing all day, Phil accepted a crossing guard position in about 2004, and has been at it for the past 13 years. He is at the Timberlane Drive corner at 7 a.m., then drives over to Stony Brook Elementary School to help younger kids get to school safely.
I asked Phil if he’s gotten to know any of the kids or parents as they pass by. “I’ve actually spoken with more kids by the elementary School as the kids are much younger there. And I know many of the kids headed to the middle or high school, because I remember their faces from Stony Brook and have seen them for most of their school life,” he said. “I’ve also come to know a number of the parents and teachers as well, because they stop often and say hello.”
Phil said parents have brought him coffee and a donut sometimes—one did so every Thursday for a while—and some have even given him gift cards at Christmas. He says that is completely unnecessary, but very kind.
Does the rain, snow or cold become a challenge? “The weather doesn’t matter. I have clothes, shoes and raincoats to deal with that,” he said. With a chuckle, Phil shared that it’s almost more annoying when it’s raining when he leaves the house, and he prepares for that weather, and then when he gets to the school, it’s not raining at all.”
I asked him if many people driving by wave to him.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “People going to work, to Pennsylvania, from Pennsylvania, many people I’ve never met, wave to me and I to them.”
He’s been doing this for 13 years now. I asked if he plans to retire again, and he said no. When asked why he said, “That’s easy. It’s the people. You hear stories about bad kids, but in all these years, I’ve never encountered a bad kid. Kids and their parents have always been very polite and nice. So, as long as I can keep doing this, I will be back.”
I’m glad to hear that Phil. I’ll see you Monday morning!