CHESTERVILLE — Generations of children have walked past a Barkley of the same immediate Chesterville family for the last half century — a milestone recognized last night by the village’s Rotary Club.
Sisters Alice and Pat Barkley, followed by Pat’s daughter and current crossing guard Penny Wheeler (nee Barkley), have brandished the stop sign in the middle of Main Street South since 1970. That uninterrupted stretch of service earned the trio a specially painted appreciation award, created by Rotarian Anita Schoch and presented at the May 13 meeting.
Dr. Gabriel Slowey, who spearheaded the original campaign that cajoled Chesterville village council into establishing a school crosswalk with guard, remembered the politicians “shaking in their boots” as he led a delegation of more than 100 parents. “The council discussed the proposal, and when they seemed to be faltering,” recalled the doctor, they agreed to a suggested three-month trial period until Christmas. “The rest is history,” he added. “The Barkley family have tended the Church Street crossing, keeping our kids safe now for the last 50 years.”
First to pick up the duty — then totally unpaid — was Alice, he pointed out. She was replaced a few years later by Pat, whose tenure coincided with actual pay of $75 per week from the village. “Now Penny is paid $300 for two weeks as an employee of North Dundas Township,” the doctor noted. “There are no benefits included, no pension.”
Penny herself has held the position for nearly 40 years, taking over from her mother in 1980. With a smile, Slowey reported asking the current guard if she had thoughts of retiring. “She said she might consider it after another 10 years.”
The elder Barkley women came by their surname through marriage, as sisters who wed a pair of Barkley brothers.
The Chesterville Rotarians quickly agreed to honour them under the auspices of the Club — as vocational excellence and “Service above Self” are key Rotary ideals — enlisting Schoch to make the flowery piece presented to the honourees.
Alice expressed thanks to the Club for the award and “especially Dr. Slowey. He was really good to me while I was doing school crossing, and his children used to bring me some nice gifts.” She added that she enjoyed crossing-guard duty “because I loved children. And that’s why when I finished … I started baby-sitting.”
North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser was on hand to read aloud the inscribed dedication: “To the Barkley family, Pat, Alice and Penny. In appreciation of 50 years service as crossing guards and keeping our children safe, as they walked to and from school, May 13, 2019.”
Fraser also pointed out that he was “a kid 50 years ago” in Chesterville, and likely crossed paths with Alice. “I’m sure you looked after me.”
Even with the stipend now paid, “it is a volunteer position, truly,” noted the appreciative mayor. “I’m sure my parents would thank you if they could,” he said, adding, “Thank you for your service to all three of you.”
Thinking back to those early years, Alice Barkley recounted how she would wear green for St. Patrick’s Day and a Santa suit for Christmas. “I passed Easter eggs out at Easter time. Oh I loved the kids, and got in some snowball fights!”
Slowey said the crosswalk operated the first six years at the intersection of Victoria and Main Street South before moving one block south to the current location at the Church Street intersection. Although set up closer to St. Mary Catholic School, it initially served many children travelling in the opposite direction to attend Chesterville Public as well — in an era when pupils still walked across town to school. “There were a lot more kids going to school then,” the doctor also said. “They were walking to and from school, and also walking home for lunch every noon hour.”