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2 hours for 25 years makes a fixture

Photo by Lindsay Blakely

Photo by Lindsay Blakely

He doesn’t live in Leaside.

He spends just over two hours a day here.

Yet Jose Ginete Jr. is a neighbourhood fixture.

That’s because for the last 25 years, he has worked as a school crossing guard.

And every bit of that time at the same corner – Eglinton Ave. and Rumsey Rd.

“When you see kids have crossed the street safely, that’s your happiness,” he says.

The 74-year-old came to Toronto from the Philippines in 1990 and began work as a crossing guard in 1991.

In his native country, Ginete Jr. was a grade school teacher, but when he arrived in Toronto he was told he would have to study full-time for two years if he wanted to teach here. As a family man, that wasn’t an option. He had to find work.

“I miss being a teacher,” he says. “But I am happy still seeing kids go to school.”

This was the first job he got and he hasn’t looked back.

Something parents and kids are thankful for.

Joey – as they call him –  is a familiar face on the daily walk to and from school. A face that isn’t easily forgotten either. He says kids he used to help cross who have now graduated from university come back every once in awhile just to say hello.

They always exclaim, “You’re still here!”

Aside from the thank-yous and occasional jokes, the weather comes up in conversation a lot. So how does he stay comfortable in the elements?

Lots of layers and a helping hand from the family who lives on the corner.

“They are good to me,” he says.

Ginete Jr. used to walk their three boys across the street, starting when the youngest was in a stroller. Now, they are grown but the bond remains.

The family has set up a spot for him on their property, where he can store his belongings and sit down under a cover from the sun during breaks.

He used to see a lot of accidents along Eglinton and he’s had one close call where he narrowly missed being hit by a car. He shrugs it off, saying he was just glad no one else was still in the intersection.

“Once you accept this job, you are responsible for the kids so they are always safe and sound.”

He finds the road busy at times but says construction has slowed things down. The worst he sees: cars running red lights.

Ginete Jr. lives in Scarborough and has five kids and “only” 12 grandchildren.

While he stands alone at his corner, when his shift is done, he has company.

Many of the Leaside crossing guards hop on the bus and meet up in the concourse of the Yonge Eglinton Centre for coffee, lunch and conversation.

Police Constable Wai Lau, the school crossing guard coordinator for 53 Division, joins them once a month for a catch up.

“They are great”, Lau says. “Dedicated and they do their best. I appreciate that they don’t need any supervision.”

He sometimes fills in for them when they have an appointment and right away people want to know when the usual guard is coming back.

There are eight crossing guards currently working in Leaside. One just started at Bessborough and McRae Dr. after a request from residents.

It’s an important job keeping kids safe but it’s a tough position to fill. With just three short shifts that break up the work day, only certain people can commit.

To get by, Ginete Jr. also worked the door at the Cumberland Theatre for seven years and he was a facility attendant at Trace Manes Community Centre for 22 years. He retired from there at the end of 2011.

When he’s not protecting kids on the street, he is tending to his other passion – gardening. He grew up on a farm and says he loves growing vegetables and spending his summer outside on the soil.

In April he was honoured at City Hall for his 25 years of service to the community.

He takes it all in stride and says he doesn’t plan to blow the whistle just yet. As long as his health holds out, he will hold court at his corner for five more years.