Love is a crosswalk
MANTENO — It’s 2:45 p.m. Bernie and Ben Testa are waiting in their tan car with their neon green safety vests and handheld stop signs, waiting for school to let out for the day.
They see students walking down Poplar Street and emerge from their vehicle. Ben walks across Division Street to the side closest to Manteno High School and Manteno Middle School. Bernie stays back on the side closest to Manteno Elementary School.
Together, the married couple of 47 years helps dozens of children pass the busy intersection, ensuring their safety. This has been their daily routine since Ben retired from a steel plant 13 years ago.
“We have been working together for so long that we know each other’s hand signals,” Bernie said with a laugh. “We enjoy it because we are helping the kids. They are sweethearts. They are like grandkids to us.”
Bernie became a crossing guard 17 years ago after retiring as a loan collector at a bank in Chicago. At the time, she patrolled the intersection of Poplar and Park streets near the middle school.
“We had grandkids in the schools. It was a chance to see them every day,” she said. “Now, they are married, college-graduated and pretty big and older people now.”
Bernie took a break from school crossing for a few years before Ben retired. They returned together at the intersection of Poplar and Division.
“I like it because it’s outside,” said Ben, who is a Vietnam War veteran, with a laugh. “I was always inside when I worked at the steel plant. It’s a good job. It’s the only one I’ve ever had where you don’t get a coffee break.”
Well, not exactly. Although Illinois Gov. J.B. Prizker declared Tuesday as Crossing Guard Appreciation Day, the Testas have found their crossing guard jobs to be rewarding.
“When it’s cold out, the police and parents will sometimes bring us coffee or hot chocolate. Sometimes they bring us doughnuts,” Ben said. “They are very kind and appreciative.”
Throughout the years, the Testas have learned the names of most of the kids they help cross. One time, a middle school student reminded Bernie that she helped his father cross when he was a student.
“Certainly, I have changed since then,” Bernie said with a laugh. “But this is a wonderful community. The kids are very kind. They say, ‘Thank you,’ when they cross. We just enjoy it.”