For the past 50 years, commuters have passed through Falls Church on their way to Washington, D.C. And for the past 50 years, Janet Haines made sure each one of them came to a halt at the intersection of Broad and Spring Streets in the Little City.
The 91-year-old crossing guard celebrated a half-century serving Saint James Catholic School students and the broader Falls Church community last Wednesday, and did so the only way she knows how: on the job.
“I just enjoy working,” Haines says. “Getting up and getting going in the morning, it keeps you on schedule that way.”
Decked out in her Falls Church City police uniform, a fluorescent yellow vest and a hi-tech stop sign that lights up on command, Haines ushers students and residents safely across the street bright and early on weekday mornings. She typically receives a handful of honks from drivers and waves from bikers as she goes about her morning routine. On Wednesday’s anniversary, however, she was surrounded by a flock of visitors.
Local news affiliates from ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS and WTOP came by to cover Haines’ 50 years of service. A collection of representatives from St. James and members of the Falls Church police department also lined the western edge of the church’s property. All looked on as Haines dutifully fulfilled her responsibilities with the glee that’s made her a Little City staple since 1967.
“There’s people that have great-grandchildren now that she used to cross when she started,” Haines’ son, Jim, says. “She was actually the crossing guard for one of the higher-ups in the police department. Her immediate boss wasn’t even born yet when she first took the job.”
St. James honored Haines in a ceremony hosted by the school’s principal, Sister Mary Sue Carwile. Members of the school’s safety patrol honor guard escorted Haines, her family and the media into the campus gymnasium as Carwile opened the assembly with kind words about Haines’ positive effect on the church during her tenure.
Members of the community then took the microphone to honor the woman whose calling in life has been to keep children safe. St. James pastor, Father Patrick Posey, spoke, as well as Falls Church City Mayor David Tarter, who lauded Haines as an upstanding member of the community. Chief of Police Mary Gavin and Haines’ direct supervisor, Corporal James Brooks, were the last to speak. They both commended the crossing guard’s work ethic and commitment to those she serves.
“It all comes down to her attitude. No matter how bad the weather may be, whether it’s snow, sleet or any cloudy day, she always brings a little sunshine into anyone’s life,” Brooks said. “My job is to make sure that her job is easier, but she just makes mine easier because she’s such a pleasure to work with. I hope she never stops.”
Haines was presented with a variety of gifts after the speakers concluded. A bracelet with the geographic coordinates of the intersection of Broad and Spring Streets; a signed picture of her with the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Michael F. Burbridge; and a white Dogwood tree to be planted in her honor. Afterward, the audience watched a video presentation in which each class from St. James thanked Haines for her efforts. Haines also received a collection of personalized letters from students, before all 455 members of the school rounded out the gift-giving by singing her a special, dedicated song.
The world has changed drastically since Haines first assumed her post. She’s witnessed the moon landing, wars in Vietnam, the Gulf and Iraq, and the fall of the U.S.S.R. She has watched 10 presidents, including the country’s first African-American, take office. Prior to becoming a crossing guard, Haines spent years as a military wife and was stationed with her family in San Diego, Alaska and the D.C. metro area.
“The ceremony has been great and very honorable,” Haines said. “I never expected this much. Maybe a little party, but not this.”
The 91-year-old gushed from all the attention — even if it was a bit overwhelming. And though 50 years in any occupation is a landmark achievement, for Haines, Wednesday morning was just another shift.
“She looks forward to this,” her son, Jim, said. “It’s a milestone, but to her it’s just another day. Another reason to come up and go to work everyday. No retirement in sight — that’s not a part of the deal.”