Crossing into retirement

June 16 will be the last day on duty for a St. Anthony of Padua crossing guard

Student Safety Patrols, John Haigh and Rio The escort Louise DiSpigno to her school held retirement party.

When it comes to choosing a career, a common piece of advice is to find something for which there exists a love and passion. In the case of South Philly native Louise DiSpigno, she found this enjoyment and fulfillment from her work as a crossing guard, and this year celebrates her retirement after 31 years of service stemming back to Sept. 24, 1986.

While the 64-year-old remembers one crossing guard from her childhood growing up on the 800 block of League Street, a woman named Betty who always wore a smile and had an admirable cheerfulness about her, it was initially her family that inspired DiSpigno to apply to assume this role. After graduating from the former St. Maria Goretti Catholic High School in 1970, she soon after got married in ’74 and had the first of her three daughters a year later.

“My youngest daughter was just entering kindergarten, and with two children already enrolled in Saint Anthony of Padua Regional Catholic School which was then the Saint Nicholas Of Tolentine School, I was looking for a part-time job where I could still be around my kids, and finish around the same time as them each day while also having off in the summers,” DiSpigno said. “The crossing guard schedule worked out well, and I enjoy kids, so it gave me a chance to be around them more.”

Upon starting her new profession, DiSpigno was assigned to the corner of 9th and Mifflin, a busy two-way intersection crossing students from both the then-Saint Nick’s and Southwark Middle School. New to the job, she found the cross streets to be busy and a little crazy with the combination of the many children and school and SEPTA buses, but she soon adapted and figured out how to excel in directing the traffic flow.

“Two years after being at 9th and Mifflin, another guard who was at 9th and Pierce decided to move to 10th and Pierce. She asked if my kids went to Saint Nick’s and if I would want to transfer to the 9th and Pierce corner,” DiSpigno said. “I said yes and it was great because then I had the exact same school schedule as my children because only Saint Nick’s students crossed there.”

Yet, while there was the appeal of assuming identical schedules to her three daughters, Ciana, Nicole and Roseann, her new crossing corner traffic was situated in the middle of a block at which traffic is only able to pass in one direction. While this presented a new set of challenges, it didn’t bother DiSpigno, who again adapted to help direct crossing there as best she could.

Although DiSpigno was able to learn the ropes quickly, it was her interactions there with the staff and parents on a daily basis that came to mean far more to her then merely assuming her responsibilities. Through getting to know each person she helped cross the street, she in turn was able to develop meaningful connections and friendships, as well as watch many of the students as they grew up over the years.

“The school has been like a second family to me,” DiSpigno, who has lived at 11th and Morris for the past 38 years, said. “The school, faculty and staff have been wonderful, and I have been invited by the school community to many plays and school functions, as well as to eighth-grade graduations.”

Despite having thought she would eventually work in an office setting and possibly complete clerical work as a student herself, DiSpigno found much greater meaning in serving as a positive influence to the many students she has encountered. Today, many of these past students, many of whom are parents of current students, still come back to visit, or drive by to say hello to “Mrs. Louise.”

“I never expected being a crossing guard to be such a big part of my life,” DiSpigno said. “Yet with anything there comes a time to move on. It’s bittersweet, but I have to do what I have to do. I’ll still come visit my corner and if I’m needed I’ll try to help.”

Regardless of her decision to move on, with her last day on the job Friday, June 16, DiSpigno’s dedication to her role as crossing guard over the past 31 years remains as apparent as ever. All those who have known and seen her work during this time know that even during extreme weather, and even after being hit by a car in 2003, nothing could deter her from helping others at 9th and Pierce.

“She’s here every day working on a very busy corner, and while being observant, caring and always on the ball,” Floss Coley, a sixth-grade teacher at St. Anthony of Padua, said. “She always knows all the kids by name, and when a car pulls up she knows exactly who has to get in. She really loves all the children as if they are her own family.”

To demonstrate their love and appreciation for DiSpigno and all of her hard work over the years, the staff of St. Anthony of Padua organized a retirement party for her which took place on Monday, June 5. At this celebration, all students and staff were present, as well as Philadelphia Police Department officers and members of DiSpigno’s family.

DiSpigno, who describes herself as a quiet person explained the event in her honor was something that she’ll never forget. Filled with songs and speeches, the celebration allowed the Saint Anthony’s family to recognize DiSpigno for going above and beyond, transforming a part-time gig into a long, rewarding career serving others.

“Louise has been here for years, she’s very dedicated and caring. I have never had to worry about the corner of 9th and Pierce streets,” Sr. Mary Esther Carsele, M.P.F., principal at St. Anthony of Padua, said. “She was always here before time and she would not leave until every child was picked up.” SPR