The 77-year-old stands in the middle of the crosswalk at 10th Street and Tracy Boulevard with the sign at shoulder-level as six of “her little kids” — an affectionate handles she’s given the children that she protects twice a day — scamper across the street for their afternoon walk home.
“They always come running across with the brightest smiles,” she said. “It makes me want to do it more and more every day.”
It’s a routine that Cole has seen play out for 19 years as a crossing guard on the one block of Tracy Boulevard — where she’s been a guard on the corner of 11th Street for 17 years and the corner of 10th Street for two.
But on June 1, Cole hung up her yellow reflective vest and ended her nearly two-decade career so she could spend more time with friends and church activities.
The decision didn’t come lightly for Cole, who picked up the stop sign after finding a passion in 1985 for children as a child care provider.
“That’s why I like it, I just love kids,” she said. “But now it’s time to move on. This isn’t the end — it’s just the beginning of a new chapter.”
In 1992, Cole’s husband, William, applied to become a crossing guard at the Tracy police station shortly after retiring as an employee of the U.S. Postal Service. He served as a guard until 2000, and died in August 2009.
“The sergeant asked if he knew anyone else who wanted to be a crossing guard and said, ‘Yeah, my wife, but she doesn’t drive,’” she said. “He said, ‘Well, that’s all right,’ and a week later they hand me the sign and say, ‘Get out there.’ I was scared, because I didn’t know anything.”
Cole described her career as a series of “close calls,” but was quick to point out that her safety record is spotless, with no child-related injuries reported.
“I just learned it myself, but now they got rules and we take tests and go too little meetings,” Cole said. “But I’m a Christian, so I thank God for blessing me and the children to keep them safe.”
Ron Travis first met Cole more than 15 years ago when Cole began crossing his oldest child. Since then, Cole has crossed all three of Travis’ children on their way home from school.
“She goes by the book and prevents accidents and stands out there in the fog in front of the cars to help the children,” he said. “It’s been a proud deal for me to know her. She is exceptional at her job, and the children and Tracy are losing a great person and crossing guard.”
According to Cole, she has “raised” many of Tracy’s children during her years of service.
“I’ve been in Tracy 40 years — I practically know so many people, and they come up say ‘Hi’ and wave, and I just connect with everybody,” she said with a smile. “Many of the girls, I knew them in elementary school, and now they are graduated from high school with babies of their own.
“Everything came naturally … and I just love what I’m doing.”
Jenelle Washington, a fourth-grader at South/West Park Elementary, said Cole has been “nice and caring” since she started crossing the 9-year-old in first grade.
“I like her because she says funny jokes,” Washington said.
Her schoolmate, 10-year-old Gustavo Enriquez, said Cole is ready to block traffic when students get off the bus.
“When you come to the street, she is always there waiting for you, and you feel safe,” said the fifth-grader.
Cole hopes to continue working with youth at her church, and said she wants to “take a few trips to the coast with my girls.”
But Cole admitted it might be hard to break her habit of carrying a plastic bag in her front pocket.
“One time, a kid was bouncing a ball and it got away from him, and he almost got hit by a car,” she said. “I’m going to miss the kids bouncing the balls, because I always carry a bag for the ball. For 19 years I had it ready in case anyone wanted to bring a ball.”